Technology

A northern connection

Baudette’s LakeWood Health Center is one of more and more northern Minnesota facilities that are incorporating telemedicine into their care.

By

Kevin Fee

on

October 24, 2019

A little room no larger than 12 by 12 feet just inside LakeWood Health Center in Baudette, Minn., has provided a big boost for residents of the Lake of the Woods region.

As you walk into the clinic, the cozy room features cameras and a monitor that allow doctors and nurses to talk to and examine patients from hundreds of miles away. It’s called telemedicine and it is quickly becoming an essential part of rural healthcare.

Telemedicine provides a secure, live video/audio connection between a patient and a specialist. Doctors can hook up tools to the cameras and send live images of the patient to a specialist. Everything from prescription refills to cancer consultations can be conducted via video chat.

“We are very rural, so telemedicine does help our community greatly, especially our elderly,” said Carrie Davidson, foundation and marketing director. “Transportation is sometimes difficult, so being able to offer specialists, when we can’t have specialists here every day Monday through Friday, really makes a difference.”

LakeWood patients have access to specialists in several areas, including dermatology, gastroenterology, hematology, infectious diseases, internal medicine, mental health, oncology, psychiatry, vascular medicine and wound care.

The clinic has telemedicine agreements with Sanford Health and the Altru Health System to see patients remotely. It also has access to e-emergency through the Avera eCare Emergency program, which allows the facility to connect with doctors and nurses while in the emergency room. The connection to LakeWood means physicians and nurses can assist with diagnosing and treating patients from Avera’s virtual hospital 24 hours a day, every day.

Less travel, especially in the challenging winter months, and more time with family is helpful for many patients dealing with illness or injury. For residents in Baudette, it’s not uncommon to travel for several hours for a brief appointment.

“If we can keep those patients close to home and close to family, it helps recovery,” Davidson said.

Rapid growth

Barb Gooderum, registered nurse at LakeWood, said the clinic has received as many as 17 telemedicine appointments over a three-hour period. For that reason, her work station is portable. She can take it to the LakeWood Care Center, a nursing home, plug in the cord and access Wi-Fi to help patients without removing them from their room. Her tools are internet-capable so that, if needed, she can send the information across the prairie for others to review.

“We also have an electronic stethoscope so the provider can hear,” Gooderum said. “We place the stethoscope and the provider can immediately hear lung and heart sounds.”

With her portable work station, Barb Gooderum is able to take the telemedicine equipment with her to other locations at the LakeWood Health Center and the local elderly care facilities. (Minnkota/Kevin Jeffrey)

The use of telemedicine by Minnesotans is rapidly growing, according to a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health and University of Minnesota School of Public Health. In a first-of-its-kind report published in 2018, researchers found that telemedicine visits jumped from 11,113 in 2010 to 86,238 visits in 2015.

In addition to reliable electricity, future growth will depend on strengthening the area’s rural broadband network. As connectivity to the internet improves, LakeWood plans to expand its offerings. That could mean more staff or work stations taking care of patients via telemedicine.

“The people up here really like it,” Gooderum said. “Sometimes you get people who prefer the face-to-face interaction. And that’s fine. But for convenience sake, this works out pretty well.”

Main image: Barb Gooderum, registered nurse at LakeWood Health Center, demonstrates how the facility’s telemedicine equipment provides live video feed to the facility. (Minnkota/Kevin Jeffrey)

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