Telehealth advances through an FRS grant

When a patient enters the emergency room at Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital (TCLMH) he or she not only can access health care resources from professionals on site, but can also tap into the expertise provided by remote facilities. Technologies like the Polycom unit that TCLMH acquired with the help of an FRS grant ensure that the area’s residents can access health care services that distant specialized health care providers offer though camera and display devices, audio equipment and broadband connectivity.

One of the foremost applications of this telemedicine device at TCLMH is connecting patients with psychiatrists at High Plains Mental Health, some 40 miles away. Its high definition visuals and quality microphone create an experience for patients that minimizes the potential stressors or inhibitors, making for a relaxing exchange with a health care professional on the other end. Tom Micek, the director of information technology at TCLMH, exclaimed that “it works wonderfully.” He hasn’t needed to be called in for any technical support on the unit.

When the hospital upgraded its emergency preparedness by adding a second line through Nex-Tech (Lenora, Kan.), the additional bandwidth paved the way for the Polycom unit. Beyond its speed requirements and the need to keep this application from taking up the hospital’s bandwidth, TCLMH needed to make a few other preparations to improve quality of care with this service. Micek described technical challenges like the various configuration barriers— “Our firewall doesn’t like Polycom units”—which were uncovered during a thorough testing phase with other facilities. Although the hospital hasn’t confronted upkeep costs with the actual unit, TCLMH has to contend with the ongoing cost associated with the bandwidth required—a cost it helps defray by getting a percentage of telecommunications expense covered through USAC reimbursement, Micek explained.

The Polycom unit’s role will likely be expanding, as the TCLMH team is starting to incorporate outpatient visits into the repertoire of its telemedicine applications. Beyond this, the hospital is exploring the possibility of adding a telemedicine device for respiratory therapy—expanding the breadth of health care services, and with it quality of care for specialized services, offered in this rural facility.