Photo: Decatur County Memorial Hospital
In 2020, the Federal Communication Commission’s telehealth grant program awarded Decatur County Memorial Hospital in Greensburg, Indiana, $698,603 for remote patient monitoring equipment, a patient telehealth platform, network upgrades, levaquin 7 days tablets and mobile hotspots.
The aim was for the hospital to provide a variety of telehealth options, including remote patient visits to reach a wide range of patients; rehabilitation assessments using telehealth for physical, occupational and speech therapies; behavioral health services for seniors in individual and group sessions; and continuous remote monitoring of patients stable enough to be cared for in the home setting but showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
Accessible healthcare and health education
The hospital serves Decatur County (population 26,584) and surrounding communities. As a rural hospital, providing accessible healthcare and health education to the community has been a priority for many years, certainly long before the pandemic hit in 2020.
“The challenges were many, but the lack of rural broadband impeded telemedicine initiatives specifically, and in general, adversely impacted the community in terms of access to information and e-learning,” said Annie Swinney, RN, staff development coordinator at Decatur County Memorial Hospital.
“In addition, aging internal infrastructure made utilizing new technology – like monitoring acutely ill patients – a challenge.”
The FCC grant had substantial significance, far beyond the hospital, stated Decatur County Memorial Hospital CEO Rex McKinney.
“The network upgrades to our infrastructure not only afforded our community the ability to access medical care via the internet and telehealth, but also provided benefits for e-learning opportunities,” he noted. “Our physicians and community have been very receptive to using technology to improve access to care.
“As the only Indiana Hospital earning a designation from Chartis Center for Rural Health as a Top 100 Critical Access Hospital and rated among the top 10% of hospitals in the entire country, utilizing cutting-edge technology is imperative for our organization to best serve our patients and community,” he added.
Improve the safety and efficiency of care
The large proposal encompassed several smaller projects that the hospital was to fund with the grant. These projects overall allowed the facility to use technology in innovative ways to improve the safety and efficiency of care provided throughout the pandemic and beyond. The projects also allowed the hospital to use its staffing resources in new ways to meet the health and wellness needs of the community.
“The telehealth grant enabled Decatur County Memorial Hospital to institute numerous initiatives that improved the care received by both inpatients and outpatients, as well as benefiting the community at large,” Swinney said. Specifically, she outlined:
- The hospital worked with a vendor to run broadband access into the town of Westport. This gave patients there the capability to have the internet for a variety of uses, including e-learning and telehealth visits.
- It updated the wireless infrastructure within its building to allow enhanced monitoring and notifications across the building, improving access to life-saving patient safety programs.
- The hospital implemented a Masimo monitoring system in all patient care areas, allowing staff to have continual monitoring of essential vital signs and track these vitals from a central monitoring station to improve care delivery. This system also allows for pushing data into the electronic health record, improving staff efficiency and allowing them to enhance care delivery.
- It purchased devices and platforms for telehealth visits, ensuring HIPAA compliance and improving the providers’ abilities to communicate via telemedicine.
- And the hospital purchased a platform to enhance healthcare support to schools and corporations with equipment allowing virtual examinations of ears, throat, and auscultation of lung and heart sounds.
Benefits all around
“These implementations were utilized across the board,” Swinney explained. “Nurses and providers benefitted from utilization of the Masimo monitoring system. Telehealth capabilities benefitted patients in rural areas, along with the providers and medical assistants in the primary care and immediate care settings.
“Infrastructure updates benefitted care providers in obvious ways, but the improvements also increase the ability of support staff to assist the care providers effectively and quickly,” she concluded.
Email the writer: [email protected]
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