Community health centers gear up for a deeper dive into telehealth.
“There is only one thing stronger than all the armies of the world and that is an idea whose time has come.” When 19th century writer Victor Hugo wrote that, he certainly wasn’t envisioning ideas like computers, the internet and smart phones. But he was likely mindful that ideas are born out of the challenges for which they pose solutions, and that has certainly been proven true with the rise of telehealth as a solution to the pandemic we have found ourselves in.
Not that COVID-19 invented telehealth, of course. Prior to the outbreak of the virus, however, the primary use of the technology was to enable physicians to consult with one another, view images, and share files remotely rather than make electronic “house calls” on patients. In 2016, new funding was made available to expand telehealth into rural settings as a way of dealing with provider shortages in small-town America.
“We’ve suddenly found two new gears in our acceleration toward full telehealth implementation,” said Dr. Julie Elder, GraceMed Chief Medical Officer. “The first of course was the pandemic itself and the need to start seeing more patients remotely, just to limit exposure to the virus. But now we’re quickly moving into another phase in which we are starting to use digital technology to collect patient data remotely and get a clearer, more sustained picture of their health status.”
What’s making this new initiative possible is a decision by the state of Kansas to set aside $3 million of federal coronavirus dollars to fund grants to community health centers to purchase wireless devices such as digital thermometers, blood pressure and glucose monitors, oximeters and scales. GraceMed was awarded one of the grants and is beginning to build an inventory of these devices. We are working with a home health agency to distribute them to low-income individuals who have chronic conditions like diabetes.
Rochelle Bryant, GraceMed’s Director of Community Cares, is overseeing the distribution of the devices to at risk populations. “There are just a lot of people out there for whom buying this equipment is beyond their means,” Rochelle explained. “If we can overcome that hurdle for them, they have a way to send us data without having to come in, so we can get a more complete picture of how they are doing. The data goes directly into an app on their phone and is then securely transmitted to their patient record here at GraceMed.”
Unintended consequences are usually associated with bad news. But this is a clear case in which the medical community, working in partnership with state government has been able to take a pandemic worth of lemons and make some lemonade that’s going to mean better medicine for a lot of at-risk patients long after the virus is gone. “Implementing telehealth on this scale would have been unimaginable at the beginning of 2020,” said Community Care CEO Denise Cyzman. “The pandemic has prompted futuristic concepts to become present day health realities.”
This post originated in our State of Grace quarterly news magazine. If you would like to receive the magazine, please visit this link and give us your information. Thanks!