Published on December 17, 2018

Telehealth Hospitalist Program Helps Rural Hospital Thrive

Every day, hospitals in rural America face significant challenges, including a lack of access to medical specialists.

The cost of providing care, which is often quite high, as well as reimbursement hurdles are other challenges these facilities face. Despite these obstacles, Wagner Community Memorial Hospital Avera, a rural hospital located in the small southeastern South Dakota city of Wagner, is thriving. Part of the reason for its success is the implementation of Avera eCARE® telehealth services.

The community hospital provides care to a diverse demographic mix of patients; the nearest tertiary hospital is more than 60 miles from the city. Since a key part of the Avera mission is delivering high quality health care to patients regardless of location, a program like Avera eCARE helps achieve that mission, especially its focus on rural communities that are often underserved by specialty health care.

The Wagner hospital implemented Avera eCARE Emergency and Pharmacy several years ago to bring these specializations more readily to patients who need them. The services have helped many patients, but they also have ensured provider retention and improved overall patient satisfaction. Another benefit the services provide is the facility’s ability to increase its average daily census.

In fall 2017, Wagner Memorial implemented the newest eCARE service, eCARE Hospitalist, as a complement to the existing services. Amy Evjen, MD, provides care as a trained hospitalist while serving as the eCARE Hospitalist Medical Director overseeing the program.

“When Wagner Memorial implemented the eCARE Hospitalist program, we began adding the insights of trained hospitalists, along with our experienced nursing staff,” Evjen said. “We leveraged technology to allow collaboration between bedside clinicians and our remote specialty team, and we’ve seen the bonds grow between the bedside providers and remote teams. We have become an extension to Wagner Memorial’s clinical team, even though we’re miles apart.”

The eCARE Hospitalist program links general health and surgical patients at the outlying facility to a team of trained hospitalists at the eCARE hub. The goal of the program is to provide high quality, consistent care and management of complex patients.

Evjen notes that Wagner Memorial has received improved, positive feedback from patients, and both teams have been able to care for more patients in the facility – meaning they don’t have to travel far from home for care. The daily census has nearly doubled.

“The work of Wagner Memorial is important because it increases access to vital specialty serves regardless of where our patients live,” Evjen said.