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Is telemedicine the key to curbing rural hospital graveyard shift expenses?

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
For rural hospitals that are having difficulties with night coverage, telemedicine may be the way to go. Hospitals that leverage one of Eagle Telemedicine’s solutions have achieved up to 40 percent in savings on nighttime coverage.

“The interest from rural hospitals in telemedicine is exploding,” Dr. Talbot McCormick, president and CEO of Eagle Telemedicine, told HCB News.

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The telemedicine solution is a robot on wheels with a two-way videoconferencing monitor. A physician from a remote location can directly interact with the patient and monitor them with a stethoscope, otoscope and blood pressure gauge.

At the National Rural Hospital Association’s 15th Critical Access Hospital Conference this week in Kansas City, Eagle Telemedicine will discuss the benefits that its customers are experiencing including an increase in patient census, avoiding transfer and addressing staffing gaps.

More specifically, the hospitals experienced a 50 percent increase in nighttime admissions and an average response time of one minute and nine seconds from the time the nurses call the telehospitalists to when the physician remotely interacts with the patient.

The rural hospitals are realizing that telemedicine can help supplement the community physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses as well as fill in the gaps in coverage that often exist, said McCormick. They are also recognizing that telemedicine is sometimes the only way to bring specialist care to rural communities.

Hospitals that aren’t in rural communities can also benefit from telemedicine technology. That can include revenue enhancement, quality improvement, medical practice support and cost avoidance.

“Not infrequently, we see metropolitan hospitals are able to attract and keep patients that they might lose by being bypassed (for example, neurology patients bypassing facilities that don't have 24/7 acute stroke care) or transfers of patients related to specialty coverage gaps,” said McCormick.

Leveraging telemedicine in the critical care areas of the hospital can assist them in achieving Leapfrog standards and maximizing the quality and efficiency of their ICU care. Also, having telemedicine specialists cover nights and weekends can help the recruitment and retention of specialists.

“Telehospitalists can provide floor call coverage, so that night hospitalists can focus on admissions, in many cases reducing the number of night hospitalists needed in the hospital at night,” said McCormick.

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