Telehealth helps one provider org overcome rural and pandemic challenges

Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center is using FCC award funds to expand its Polycom device-based program to keep patients on schedule with mental health and general care.
Telehealth helps one provider org overcome rural and pandemic challenges

Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center in Owen, Wisconsin.

Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center (CCRLC) in Owen, Wisconsin, is a rural healthcare provider that offers its patients a small-town, patient-centered care focus.

THE PROBLEM

Like many rural healthcare organizations, CCRLC has faced the challenge of recruiting mental health providers, due in part to the shortage of professionals in the specialty. This is where telemedicine comes in: It provides CCRLC a gateway for mental health providers to offer these services at the rural campus.

CCRLC currently uses two Polycom devices to provide the link between the mental health provider and the patient receiving services. The process requires patient, staff and provider coordination to ensure a room and a Polycom device are both available for the service.

“The current Polycom devices CCRLC maintains are room-specific, which requires the patient to travel to the Polycom versus moving the Polycom to the patient, and during the COVID-19 pandemic under current guidance, it is not advisable to transport patients between campuses,” said Jane Schmitz, executive director at Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center. “Therefore we felt our current utilization of telemedicine was no longer suiting our needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as we were not able to transport patients to the Polycom devices for the mental health service offerings.”

PROPOSAL

CCRLC management reviewed current utilization at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and determined that purchasing a telemedicine device for each unit within CCRLC would allow for more access to mental health services. By having a Polycom device on every unit, the patient would not need to travel across the campus to receive their telemedicine service.

"Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center has seen a sharp decline in canceled appointments due to weather, health conditions, etc."

Jane Schmitz, Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center

“Furthermore, this allows CCRLC patients to connect with their primary care physician for routine office visits,” Schmitz said. “By offering these office visits via telemedicine, CCRLC patients are able to connect with their physician in the comfort of their room while maintaining the same level of care during an onsite clinical office visit. This service will become especially helpful during the winter months in rural Wisconsin when the snow begins to fall, as patients will be avoiding travel in potentially dangerous conditions for onsite clinical office visits.”

MARKETPLACE

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MEETING THE CHALLENGE

CCRLC currently maintains two Polycom devices on its campus that are primarily used for mental health services to assist patients in reaching their providers.

“The Polycom device is similar to that of your laptop, in which it can video-conference to another device at another location,” Schmitz explained. “The basic pieces of a Polycom are a computer module, a camera, a microphone and wiring, which all are merged together ... This Polycom unit allows us to connect directly with a provider’s office to video-conference, similar to that of traditional video conference software.”

Having used Polycom for a number of years, CCRLC has found that, once configured properly, the picture quality provided by the camera to the provider on the receiving end is exceptional and the audio quality is of equal quality, she added.

RESULTS

CCRLC has had success in using telemedicine devices for a number of years on its rural campus. However, it has grown apparent, due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, that current utilization was declining due to lack of access throughout the campus.

“One area in which CCRLC has shown improvement through using telemedicine is appointment retention,” Schmitz reported. “Being a rural healthcare provider, our patients would have to travel in order to receive their mental health services, and due to our rural location this travel can sometimes be over an hour away from the campus. Unfortunately, not all appointments go as scheduled, which results in patients arriving late or needing to cancel their appointment altogether due to weather, health conditions, etc.”

Mental health providers understand canceling these appointments. However, through the use of telemedicine, CCRLC has seen a sharp decline in canceled appointments due to weather, health conditions and the like, she said.

“Another success story for the technology is its durability,” she added. “Being a healthcare provider, our equipment, including our technology, is used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it needs to keep up with the pace of our campus. These Polycom units, with as often as they are used, have withstood everything we have thrown at them. We use various technologies on our campus, and the Polycom has outlasted similar products.”

USING FCC AWARD FUNDS

Earlier this year, Clark County Rehabilitation and Living Center was awarded $201,863 for tablets and video telehealth equipment to perform remote diagnosis and treatment for psychiatric services and expand primary care telehealth services in order to reduce patient travel in rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our plan for the funding includes purchasing additional Polycom telemedicine devices for each unit of our campus,” Schmitz explained. “This will allow for patients to receive both medical and mental health services from the patient unit versus traveling across campus to another unit for these services, which during the COVID-19 pandemic currently is not advisable. Having the additional devices also further assists the patient’s mental and social health by allowing them to remain on the unit where they are familiar and comfortable with both the staff and their surroundings. This approach will assist in reducing anxiety and apprehension associated with these services.”

Also through the funding, CCRLC’s plan is to purchase tablets for staff to use for video conferencing between medical providers and patients. Again, being a rural healthcare provider, it remains difficult for patients and providers to meet for clinic appointments due to factors such as weather, transportation and health concerns. Using a tablet to connect the medical provider to the patient for general care provides the patient with real-time answers to their healthcare concerns while again allowing them to remain in the comfort of their home.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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