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Telemedicine takes root in the Midwest

Earlier this year, first-year medical student Bonnie Chien and classmates visited the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota as part of their Rural and American Indian Health Disparities class. In a series of posts on Scope, she chronicled her trip and how a lack of funding and resources forced physicians to take on numerous roles and do a little bit of everything from performing circumcisions to treating rheumatoid arthritis.

So I was interested to read an Atlantic post today about Avera Health Network, a long-distance critical-care center where doctors use two-way video conferencing to provide much needed support to rural hospitals in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Averna Health Network's four main services -- eConsult, eICU Care, eEmergency, and ePharm -- are designed to provide some relief for the 10 percent of physicians in the U.S. who currently serve 25 percent of the nation's population residing in rural areas. As writer Lindsay Abrams explains, the nonprofit allows local emergency medicine physicians to immediately connect with specialists who can consult in treating patients as well as help in monitoring them:

When the call comes in the middle of the night, with the push of a button -- mounted right on the ER's wall -- the nurses on-duty are able to connect with ER doctors in Sioux Falls, who have been waiting, in their patient-less hospital, for their call.


Of course, physical hands are needed to carry out virtual orders, and real doctors and nurses are always on hand to provide that. But even IRL (in real life), crisis situations require someone at the head of the room, keeping tabs on everyone and calling the shots. In emergency situations, where every second counts, the long-distance physician is able to be in the room an average of 14 minutes sooner than the local doctor.

The doctors back at the hub spend their time monitoring ICU patients -- they have virtual access to 60 percent of the beds in South Dakota. Pharmacists are on-hand to review prescriptions, make sure doctors aren't missing any allergies or medical history, and keep them abreast of the newest recommendations and standards of care.

Previously: How a Stanford dermatologist is using telemedicine to reach underserved populations in California, Phoning in your specialized medical tests and Can telemedicine work for dermatology patients?
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

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