Population Health Insights

State Telemedicine News: Kansas & Tennessee Look to Expand Access

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“Technology has the potential to improve the quality of health care and to make it accessible to more people. Telehealth may provide opportunities to make health care more efficient, better coordinated and closer to home.”

So write the authors of an editorial in Kansas’ Emporia Gazette (emphasis ours) praising the decision of a local facility to implement virtual visit technology — a decision that’s “saving long bus rides to the doctor’s office and speeding the delivery of medical care,” among other benefits.  

The method utilized by the facility, Chase County Care and Rehabilitation Center — described as a “small, family-oriented rural nursing home” — is focused on making virtual visits comfortable for seniors. A telehealth-trained nurse brings a specially designed “telehealth cart” to a patient’s room, then serves as intermediary between the seniors and their caregiver as they conduct a virtual visit.

What Is Virtual Visit Technology?

Via dictation, the practitioner “uses the nurse's hands for the exam, all the while conversing with the elder, and the nurse, via the telemonitor which is about the same size as the screen on a laptop computer,” the authors explain.

Though the care is virtual, patients have the advantage of interacting with not one but two real people — both the nurse present in the room and the on-screen practitioner.  The authors note that it typically takes only two to five minutes for the patient “to lose the feeling of talking to a computer and become comfortable talking with the practitioner via the monitor.”

“Telehealth helps us to provide faster, more immediate personal care and eliminates many tiring bus rides,” explains a program administrator. “It helps us toward our goal of always improving the quality of life for our elders.”

Though the article praises the potential of telemedicine to deliver “better-coordinated care,” the authors also point out a potential drawback that may be looming on Kansas’ telemedicine horizon: The occasional lack of regional Internet availability or high-speed broadband that sophisticated telehealth connections typically require.

Telemedicine in Tennessee: How Chattanooga Is Leveraging Municipal Broadband for Greater Access to Care

The practice of developing network access along with telemedicine offerings services is becoming more common. For instance, the FCC recently proposed spending $100 million on a new Connected Care Pilot Program to develop broadband access in rural areas.

“For all of the potential that telehealth holds for assisting the aging-in-place process, telehealth’s success rides squarely on the back of quality broadband in the community,” notes the Daily Yonder’s Craig Settles in a piece on the challenges of expanding telehealth access into rural communities

A few states east of Kansas, in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee — described as “bullish on telemedicine” — leaders have already gotten far ahead of the broadband challenge. Predating Google Fiber, the city’s gigabit network was the first in the nation to be developed by a city government.

By leveraging this unique municipal broadband network, Chattanooga is looking to develop and deliver a more sophisticated telehealth experience to residents. The agency that runs the network, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB), has partnered with a number of local medical practices to test-pilot a range of telehealth products and services to the community.

A physician with one of those partners, a family medical practice, describes the services as popular with young parents. “Our patients who are under 40 were the most enthusiastic, especially if they have young children,” she told the Gazette. “Parents quickly understand that hours spent in the waiting room full of other sick kids can be painful, and a video consult is just like being in the room with the doctor.”

In addition to facilitating telehealth access, the city’s “Gig” network has enabled the creation of Diagnostic Radiology Consultants, a groundbreaking effort by Dr. Jim Busch to bring the area’s radiologists together in a digital network to share information with each other, and with local hospitals.

A successful business story in its own right, the network is based on software that “makes it easier for radiologists to read and annotate images from wherever they are.”

And further down the road, leaders hope to develop solutions for local communities in Eastern Tennessee. The region has been hit particularly hard by the nation’s opioid epidemic; in addition, access to “quality, competent health care has been a challenge,” says a local healthcare executive.

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