Because of an ongoing investment in rural health care by Sanford Health, patients don’t need to travel hundreds of miles for world-class care.
James “Jim” Wallace, M.D., is a pediatric pulmonologist at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He said the emphasis Sanford Health has placed on telemedicine and virtual visits has changed the game for rural patients.
Dr. Wallace said he’s seen firsthand how mileage can put a barrier between patients and providers, especially in North Dakota.
“When we started providing services up in Fargo, it became very apparent that there were a lot of patients in the more rural areas of North Dakota, where it was quite a challenge for them to get to Fargo,” he explained.
Saving patients time and money
Dr. Wallace said there are multiple telemedicine sites in North Dakota, which allow patients easier access to care.
There are telemedicine sites in three North Dakota cities:
- Minot, North Dakota
- Watford City, North Dakota
- Dickinson, North Dakota
“We’ve had about a dozen visits between those three telemedicine sites,” he said. “It’s very impressive because when I look at the amount of time that we’re saving families to travel in those 12 visits, it calculates out to be somewhere around 180 hours of time that we’ve been able to save patients from having to utilize travel.”
Tech keeps providers, patients connected
You may think, “How can a pediatric pulmonologist see patients virtually?” The technology allows doctors and nurses, like pediatric nurse practitioner Deb Hickman, to hear a patient’s heartbeat and lungs essentially through a webcam.
“We have a device that is connected virtually through our electronic health care platform. There’s a stethoscope mode (for hearing a patient’s heart, lungs, bowels), and otoscope mode (for looking into a patient’s ears).
“So, I could look at an ear of a patient that’s 600 miles away. If you need to see something up close, there’s a device where you can put a tongue blade on it, so I could take a look at the back of a patient’s throat,” Hickman said.
Hickman explained there’s always a health care professional with the patients on the other end. So, if they need help or Hickman needs help, a trained professional is there.
She said the usage of telemedicine and virtual visits prove Sanford Health is committed to meeting patients wherever they are.
“This is a huge game-changer for patients,” Hickman said. “Sometimes our patients are driving round-trip 1,200 miles. So, for me to be able to walk into the room, and they’re on the other side of a computer screen, it means patients don’t have to miss two days of work. They didn’t just spend several hours in a car with young children. Kids aren’t missing school. There’s no financial cost of a hotel and meals. So, it makes a really big impact on access to care for those folks that are in rural areas.”
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