Telemedicine brings specialists to Mineral County care

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Bringing quality specialists to rural communities is difficult when dealing with the high costs that are found in some areas of medicine such as psychiatry and cardiology and strokes.

Places like Mineral County are starting to use telemedicine in order to deal with meeting the needs of their patients in a cost-efficient manner. Telemedicine connects patients in outlying areas to specialists in larger communities through specialized equipment.

Mineral Community Hospital has started using telestroke equipment in the emergency department and telepsychiatry equipment with their mental health services. The equipment was supplied from a grant awarded to Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, and Mineral Community Hospital is a beta site for some services and is hoping to continue to add services in the future.

The hospital, located in Superior, has had a telestroke unit for about a year. Until recently, specialists had only been accessible by phone from larger hospitals. For stroke patients, minutes matter in order to minimize brain damage, and visual evaluation of a potential stroke is imperative.

Once the telestroke unit is initiated, the provider is connected to a neurologist who can view the CT, labs, and visually connect patient within minutes of the patientís arrival to the emergency department. These specialists can be in Oregon, Washington or Alaska and can be reached 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Mineral Community Hospital and Providence have formulated a process and plan to provide first-line interventions, giving patients better odds for the best outcomes. Mineral Community treated two patients using this system in January. Ongoing training and education is also completed by staff on a routine basis, so despite lower volumes for this service, the local hospitalís staff is always ready and available when this care is needed.

Mineral Community Hospital also has telepsychiatry available through an outpatient clinic. Patients are able to have a face-to-face visit with a psychiatrist located in Missoula within the Providence Medical Group. This has also decreased wait times for visits and more convenient access to this care as clients are able to be seen locally at the hospital. The telemedicine program also includes a psychologist specializing in pain management. This program is targeted at patients with chronic pain issues that are affecting their everyday activities and relationships. Their focus is to help with understanding pain and learning how to cope.

Telecardiology is coming soon to the hospital. This will provide outpatient follow-up visits with the International Heart Institute, again in partnership with Providence Health and Services. An RN who is trained to be the hands for the provider assists with the exam and the individualized care plan for each patient. This is an opportunity for residents of Mineral County to receive care locally versus traveling into Missoula.

Telemedicine is the wave of the future for hospitals in Montana that cannot afford to have full-time specialists on staff but understand the importance of the services needed for their patients.

A demonstration of telemedicine unit will be at the Mineral Community Hospital Health Fair on Saturday, May 12, from 9 a.m. to noon. Also, if individuals would like to see the equipment, they can call 822-5122 to schedule an appointment.

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