How a Network of Providers and Telehealth Enabled Care to Rural Patients

Center Post

What began as a cooperative effort between Billings Clinic and a few rural healthcare facilities in eastern Montana to research the potential of interactive videoconferencing has evolved into a buddy telemedicine program to advance patient-centered care by helping consumers avoid the expenses, burdens and risks associated with traveling long distances for health care.

This is the 8th in a series of case studies from the Preparing for the Future report.

You can check out the full Billings Clinic/Dahl Memorial Healthcare Association case study, or continue reading the summary below. 

The Organizations

Billings Clinic is a not-for-profit health care organization that serves patients in Montana, Wyoming and the western Dakotas. The clinic’s main campus consists of a 272-bed hospital with a Level II Trauma Center and a 90-bed Assisted Living and Rehabilitation Center. Its service area stretches over a 121,000 square miles and includes 572,000 residents living in 40 counties.

Dahl Memorial Healthcare Association is a critical access hospital located in Ekalaka, a town of 410 residents in eastern Montana. The facility combines a 23-bed nursing home, a clinic where a physician assistant provides health care services, and a hospital with 24-hour emergency services.

The Approach

The rural setting for Dahl Memorial makes it difficult for patients to receive specialty services. With grants from Dahl Memorial and supportive services from Billings Clinic, the two worked together with video conferencing equipment and medical peripherals so Billings Clinic specialists can conduct remote exams with Dahl Memorial patients.

Technology

Telemedicine enabled physician visits are at the core of what Billing Clinic and Dahl Memorial are working toward. The remote visits benefit patients who cannot afford the time or the expense of in-person visits with their specialists.

Outcomes

Face-to-face visits are still the priority for Billings Clinic and Dahl Memorial, however telemedicine is a viable option when face-to-face visits are either impossible or impractical. Finding the right combination of in-person and remote health care interactions will improve care coordination and communication.

Business Case

The business case for telemedicine is improving with each passing year due to several factors, including enhanced Medicaid reimbursement and more sophisticated equipment that has elevated the quality, convenience and efficiency of telemedicine-enabled doctor visits. 

Clinicians are now able to seamlessly integrate telemedicine into their practices, often moving from a face-to-face office visit to a telemedicine visit in a matter of minutes. In the early days of telemedicine, the physician had to travel to a special studio in order to conduct remote patient visits. 

Telemedicine has also advanced patient centered care by helping consumers avoid the expenses, burdens and risks associated with traveling long distances for health care.

You can also view all 18 case studies from the Preparing for the Future report.