St. Anthony's to expand rural telemedicine network
Oklahoma City — When patients in Fairview need to see a specialist, there's a good chance they'll be able to avoid the 100-mile drive to Oklahoma City.
St. Anthony's Hospital has received a $457,020 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand its telemedicine network.
Currently, it provides primary care and hospital physician services to seven rural facilities, mostly in western Oklahoma. USDA estimates St. Anthony will provide about 3,400 virtual visits with patients in nine hospitals in the first year of the expansion, and about the same number with patients in clinics.
The grant will pay for additional equipment, allowing specialists based in Oklahoma City to do consultations remotely, and will update the cameras their existing partners use, said Kyle Nondorf, chief operating officer at St. Anthony's.
Some patients may still need to travel for a procedure, but they can have appointments with a cardiologist or a doctor specializing in the lungs or infectious diseases without leaving their communities, he said.
“The goal is to supplement and complement what's there, and not to compete,” he said. “The intent is to keep as much health care local as we can.”
Roger Knak, CEO of Fairview Regional Medical Center, said the hospital has had a telemedicine partnership with St. Anthony's since 2009. Patients in Fairview, a 2,600-person city in Major County, and other rural areas tend to be older and are likely to be poor, so making the drive to Oklahoma City is a challenge, he said.
Because Fairview and St. Anthony's use the same medical software, a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner can easily put in a request for a patient to consult with a specialist, Knak said. Then, it proceeds much like an office appointment would if the patient had traveled, except that they interact by video, he said.
“That will pop into (the specialist's) work queue as their next patient,” he said.
Most of the hospitals use the same electronic health record, which makes it easier to read up quickly on a patient's history, Nondorf said. The rural hospitals also will have a handheld camera for getting close-up views of a rash or wound and equipment to transmit the sounds picked up by a stethoscope, he said.
The expansion will roll out this spring, and specialists could start seeing patients remotely in May or June, Nondorf said.
The consulting physicians bill insurance through the hospital, so patients shouldn't be hit with higher out-of-network charges, so long as the hospitals where they are physically located are in the insurer's network.
The arrangement also works financially for the rural hospitals, because they can bill for any care the patient might need, like lab tests or imaging, instead of shipping that work to larger centers, Knak said.
“I think it's been a very beneficial relationship for us in the past, and I'm looking forward to updated equipment,” he said.