Comstock's magazine 1218 - December 2018 - Page 52

TELEHEALTH M ichael DeBlasio thought it was really bad RISE OF THE REMOTE DOCTOR stomach cramps, but the pain in his abdo- For the past two years, UC Davis Medical Center has been men wouldn’t go away. Even though he con- increasing its virtual services, expanding from post-surgery siders himself “a healthy guy who doesn’t visits to routine scheduled visits. In 2017 at Kaiser Permanen- rush to the hospital,” in July, he drove 15 te, more than half of all patient encounters were virtual, ac- minutes from his house in Volcano to the local Sutter Health cording to a Kaiser spokesperson. Dignity Health sees about emergency room in rural Amador County. 35,000–40,000 patients a year through various forms of tele- “They determined it was the onset of a heart attack,” recalls health, says Kelly Summers, senior director of Digital Care DeBlasio, a 66-year-old former product marketing manager. Transformation at Dignity Health, which has expanded its The emergency department at Sutter Amador Hospital has telehealth services with rural health access to post-acute and doctors who can diagnose and treat heart attacks but for more ambulatory care. specialized treatment, patients may need to be transferred to In the weeks after his surgery, DeBlasio made sure to stay another location for a higher level of care. That was the case connected. He bought $100 worth of monitoring devices to track for DeBlasio. Physician assis- his blood pressure, tempera- tants loaded him into an am- ture, oxygen levels and weight. bulance and sent him to Sac- Now, once a month, he drives ramento, a 90-minute drive 15 minutes to the local clinic to save his failing heart. The to see his cardiologist virtually. surgery was a success, but At his local hospital, an off-site his story represents the com- cardiologist can emulate an mon struggle for residents in-person exam, listening to in remote areas and under- DeBlasio’s heart through a dig- served communities, where ital stethoscope connected to a doctors are sparse. These pa- smart tablet. The cardiologist tients typically have to travel can see and hear high-quali- tens or hundreds of miles for ty, live streaming of heart and specialty care. lung sounds in real time. DeB- About 15 percent of the lasio can also see and speak to U.S. population lives more the cardiologist with a secure than an hour away from a video-conference application. trauma center, and 23 percent Sutter Health is piloting of children in the country live a cardiac monitoring plat- — Dr. Jim Marcin, director, more than an hour from a form from the Bay Area-based UC Davis Center for Health and Technology children’s hospital, accord- devices company, Eko. This ing to the National Center for partnership is a powerful step Biotechnology Information. forward in delivering quali- The American Heart Associa- ty cardiac care to patients in tion says at least half of adults remote areas, says Connor in the country live more Landgraf, co-founder and than an hour from a primary stroke center. According to the CEO of Eko. For DeBlasio, the fact that he doesn’t have to trav- Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the six-county el 50-plus miles to see his cardiologist saves money and time. Sacramento region is 85 percent rural — home to patients And he says he doesn’t feel weird about the virtual checkup. who travel long distances for specialty care. But the rise of “Reminds me of the old days, back when the doctor used telehealth, where virtual checkups and post-surgery care al- to come and visit you,” he says. “It makes sense. If we can do low the patient and provider to be in separate places, is re- this in outer space with astronauts, why can’t it be done local- shaping ideas of access. This includes telemedicine, remote ly, a couple hundred miles from the hospital?” patient monitoring and other electronic forms of communi- cation. With mobile apps, doctors can monitor chronic con- ANSWERING THE CALL ditions, and patients can send real-time health data to spe- At Sutter Health, it was a Northern California firestorm that cialists regardless of distance. jump-started the health system’s “video visits” program. In “Telehealth hopefully helps to prevent hospitalization. It’s about being more proactive as opposed to reactive.” 52 | December 2018