Do you have family in rural parts of Idaho? Do you sometimes head to McCall or Sun Valley for the weekend?
What if, while visiting, you developed sudden weakness on one side of your body, your face began to droop or your speech became slurred?
I would hope that those with you would recognize the early signs of a stroke, call 911 and get you to the nearest hospital’s emergency room. In more rural parts of our state, the nearest emergency room is likely to be a critical-access hospital — a small, community hospital that serves rural residents.
These hospitals are fantastic community resources but are limited by their very nature in terms of the specialists they have and the services they can provide. Half of St. Luke’s Health System hospitals are critical-access hospitals, delivering services close to home and achieving some of the highest patient satisfaction scores. However, they may treat only a handful of strokes in any given year.
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St. Luke’s recently began to augment the services these hospitals provide through a teleneurology service. Through the use of advanced technology, doctors and nurses at critical-access hospitals (St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center now and St. Luke’s McCall soon) can get immediate access to a board-certified neurologist to help them evaluate a possible stroke patient and determine whether it is appropriate and safe to administer clot-busting medication while we stabilize the patient and mobilize an air ambulance to take the patient to our more advanced stroke center in Boise.
The availability of this consultation and the ability to administer the drugs within an hour of a patient’s presentation to the emergency room means fewer complications and disabilities following a stroke.
Technology is allowing us to do even more. Our electronic intensive-care unit allows board-certified intensive-care physicians in Boise to communicate directly with doctors and nurses at community hospitals for those patients that require a higher level of care than what is offered at those hospitals.
These specialists can access all of the monitoring and laboratory data on these patients and can examine the patients remotely with sophisticated cameras. These consultations allow some patients to be better stabilized before transfer and allow other patients to remain at the community hospital, close to home and family.
We also use the technology to improve the care of critically ill patients in our Boise, Meridian and Magic Valley medical centers. It has made our care safer, our outcomes even better and patient stays in ICU shorter.
Technology is allowing us to connect to our communities in new and effective ways and deliver more services locally. I envision more consultations among specialists in Boise and physicians and their patients in the rural areas. Technology also will allow us to provide some home care that currently requires hospitalization. In the future, technology will allow us to do even more.