AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Regional Solutions Are Best for a National Health Care Problem

Stroke affects every community in the United States. However, the risk varies by region (consider the “Stroke Belt” of the southeastern US), and the resources available for treatment have historically been unevenly distributed. Much of the disparity is cultural, but some is political. In the 18th and 19th centuries, where a river or mountain range limited travel, state boundaries were created. At the time, those natural boundaries impeded communication, but 21st century technology breaks those barriers with ease.  The federal government’s recent institution of 12 new telehealth regions takes into account the latest technological advances while maintaining regional autonomy. New broad-band internet availability in rural parts of the country now allows telehealth to provide high quality medical care in areas where geographical obstacles once prohibited.

Rapid stroke-specific care can be accomplished at any local hospital within a telehealth region. No longer does a zip code determine the quality of healthcare available to its residents. Fortunately, regionalism, an inherent aspect of human nature, is preserved, and for good reason when providing healthcare. Each region, unlike some individual hospitals, has all the specialty services needed, but still provides a manageable focus for organizing and monitoring quality of care. Compared to national approaches, regional telemedicine providers have knowledge of and experience with regional medical care and resources, making it easier to understand each region’s specific needs.

The Federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), created the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) to promote the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education, and health information services. Each region is managed by a regional Telehealth Resource Center (TRC). OAT provides a list of the current TRCs on their website as well as a map of their catchment areas.

The Georgia Partnership for Telehealth is a leader in the Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, providing reliable and cost effective high speed internet service to medical sites in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, all of which are located in the aforementioned “Stroke Belt,” where incidence of stroke is highest. Linking a region’s medical resources to maximize patient care is a race against the clock (which in the case of stroke is a race towards saving brain), and telemedicine consultations now take just minutes. Simply put, an internet connection traveling the speed of light is a significantly more efficient means of linking these resources than an ambulance driving at full speed or a helicopter flying at 120 miles per hour. This is the power of 21st century technology.

 


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[…] The size of a company will directly impact its ability to stay true to its mission. Our firm belief is that the future of telemedicine is in regional providers partnering with both local hospitals and government or not-for-profits. There are larger providers of teleneurology, and their scale may be a corporate advantage; a large staff of part-time physicians to fractionate call burden as well as development of proprietary hardware & software (the cost of which is hidden in a monthly service charge). However, their size is not beneficial to patients and hospitals. In reality, the size of these “McTelemedicine” services paints them as something hospitals fear; impersonal, computerized doctors. The need to focus on healthcare solutions tailored to the specific needs of the healthcare region has been addressed in a recent blog. […]

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