Across the lonely northern plains, far from big-city hospitals, emergency-room patients in small towns are being treated by doctors and nurses via Skype-enabled telemedicine.
The hands-on treatment still comes from local doctors and nurses, notes an article in The Atlantic. But many aren't emergency-medicine specialists, and aren't necessarily exposed to a wide range of trauma and other kinds of cases in their practices.
That's where the specialists at the nonprofit Avera Health Network come in. Working via high-definition video conference from a central facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., doctors and nurses not only consult with local providers, but can start treating patients with a local nurse before an on-call physician arrives. The Avera specialist is on hand an average of 14 minutes earlier than the local doctor, according to article.
Avera calls the service eEmergency. It's one of a suite of services it offers rural hospitals, along with eICU, eConsult and ePharm, notes The Atlantic. The eEmergency service includes a pharmacist.
"If you think about, there's an awful lot of medicine that is just done through visualization of X-rays, looking at the chart, talking to the patient, making assessments, writing prescriptions," Fred Slunecka, Avera Health's chief operating officer, tells The Atlantic. "There's an amazing amount of care that can be done that way."
While many hospitals are joining telestroke networks that give them access to highly trained stroke specialists at academic medical centers, eEmergency takes the concept a step further by providing comprehensive emergency-room care.
Avera has its own hospital network, but also serves other hospitals, according to an article published earlier this year in the Sioux Falls-based Tri-State Neighbor. The network began in October 2009 with a $13 million startup grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. It serves hospitals in Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wyoming.
The company said its services decreased ambulance and helicopter transfers to major hospitals by 18 percent as of October, saving $6.6 million, according to The Atlantic. Keeping patients in hometown hospitals also helps communities by keeping healthcare spending local, the article notes.