Virtual Health Care Fills Coverage Gaps In Rural America

Imagine this: In a hospital in eastern Montana, the presiding emergency physician might never step foot inside the emergency room during a shift. Instead, he sits at a desk more than 700 miles away and connects via video call.

Hospitals and physicians are becoming few and far between in rural America, but a technology company is working to fill that void.

Avera eCare operates a telemedicine center out of a suburban industrial park in South Dakota, providing remote emergency care for nearly 200 hospitals across 30 states.

The number of doctors and hospitals in rural America has declined by up to 15 percent in the last decade, according to the Washington Post.

Some standalone emergency rooms are fighting off bankruptcy, while others can’t find doctors to hire or can’t afford one. That’s where telemedicine comes in.

Instead of exam rooms, Avera’s physicians work out of high-tech cubicles. They wear scrubs but never directly see or touch patients.

Instead, they use remote controls to move high-resolution cameras within emergency rooms, where nurses and other health care professionals work directly with patients under the guidance of these remote physicians.

All of the Avera doctors have trained for years inside standard ERs, so they’re well-acquainted with the emergencies they see on-screen. And because they are available at the push of a button, doctors at the virtual hospital begin treating a patient an average of 21 minutes faster than doctors on call.

Remote care also allows hospitals to treat more patients on-site rather than having to transfer them to bigger facilities, resulting in increased billing charges.

In medical emergencies, every second counts. Services like Avera, which has been around since 1993, are essential to fill gaps in health care, especially in places where hospitals struggle with access to a network of specialists.

With this creative solution, Avera has helped treat more than 1.5 million patients at more than 400 sites through their on-demand, 24/7 care.

(Editor's Note: Since this article was published in the Goodnewspaper, Avera has sold their e-care business. In a press release published on July 29th, 2021, Bob Sutton, president and CEO of Avera Health, said, “During the pandemic, people nationwide recognized the value of telehealth, and telehealth grew in significance. The time is right for us to fulfill this piece of our strategic plan so Avel eCare can scale and help even more people. Avera will continue its tradition of being an innovator in the virtual care space well into the future. And, Avera will maintain a relationship with Avel eCare as a recipient of telemedicine services.”)

A VERSION OF THIS STORY ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE Health Heroes EDITION OF THE GOODNEWSPAPER IN September 2020.
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September 25, 2021 9:55 PM
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