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Telehealth: Transforming patient care in New Ulm

People in small towns and rural areas get the same illnesses that people in larger cities do, but they may not have access to the same kinds of doctors.

That is changing in New Ulm, thanks to the expanding use of telehealth technology at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC).

Telehealth technology, which uses secure video and audio technology to connect care providers with patients in real time, is helping NUMC patients access a wide variety of specialists without the drive to a larger city. Through the use of telehealth, the clinical expertise of practitioners from outside of New Ulm can be brought to the bedside or clinic at New Ulm Medical Center. This technology reduces the geographic barriers to specialized health care that people in rural areas may face.

How it works

While telehealth services work a little differently depending on the type of care, the visit usually occurs in a clinic exam room that is equipped with a screen and other technology such as an electronic telescope. A nurse is in the room with the patient. The patient and the physician can see each other on the screen and talk to each other much like a routine office visit.

“Sometimes patients are unsure about telehealth visits to start with, but most are very happy with it once they’ve done it. They appreciate the benefits it provides,” said Adam Schmidt, RN, NUMC Specialty Clinic manager.

Launched in 2014

“Our telehealth services started in 2014 with cardiologists from the Minneapolis Heart Institute®, part of Allina Health,” said Schmidt. “I applaud them for all the services they provide to rural communities like New Ulm.”

In addition to providing general cardiology visits through telehealth, Minneapolis Heart Institute® offers subspecialty telehealth consultations for heart rhythm problems and congestive heart failure.

Other telehealth services at NUMC include genetic counseling, psychiatry, pulmonology and Suboxone for opioid addiction. Infectious disease and vascular disease consultations are in the planning stages.

In the Emergency Department (ED), telestroke services link NUMC providers with Abbott Northwestern Hospital stroke neurologists to ensure that people with symptoms of stroke are evaluated and treated as quickly as possible. “When it’s a stroke, time matters in terms of the patient’s outcomes, so having those insights from a neurologist while we’re treating the patient in the ED is invaluable,” said Brittany Brindle, MD, emergency department physician at NUMC.

Addressing rural health care challenges

Telehealth is growing in New Ulm and other communities because it helps address some of the challenges of rural health care. It can alleviate the long wait time for high demand services like mental health or follow-up for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It can also help patients with complicated health conditions receive optimum health care, no matter where they live.

For example, when New Ulm patients with congestive heart failure are discharged from Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, they see a heart failure specialist within five days via a telehealth visit at NUMC. “We know that patients with complex conditions do much better after a hospitalization if any problems or complications are caught early. The five-day follow-up helps us do that,” said Steven Gilles, MD, family medicine physician at NUMC. “Telehealth helps us provide quicker access to specialty care without adding to the cost of care. It’s more convenient for our patients, and it can have a real impact on health.”

For more information, visit allinahealth.org/telehealth.