Shore Regional Health expands telehealth services
EASTON — Imagine being a patient who lives on the MidShore and doesn’t have to drive to Baltimore to see their palliative care or psychiatry medical specialist.
That will soon be an option for patients, as University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is expanding its telehealth services in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties in an effort to try to close service gaps in a rural area like the Mid-Shore.
The medical system received a $75,000 grant from the Maryland Health Care Commission for the project, which is specifically designed to expand access to services and experts in palliative care and psychiatry for patients in Queen Anne’s and Kent counties, two counties where telehealth services are lacking.
“The MDCC grant enables UM Shore Regional Health to apply state-of-the-art telehealth technology to close difficult gaps in rural healthcare,” said Dr. William Huffner, chief medical officer and senior vice president of medical affairs for Shore Regional Health.
Telehealth allows patients to see doctors using telecommunications and related technologies, like video conferencing and the use of remote examination tools. It aims to reduce hospital emergency department visits and inpatient admissions and readmissions, while improving access to care and providing cost savings to patients, according to Shore Regional Health.
According to Shore Regional Health, a significant gap in rural health care is caused by the nationwide shortage of skilled health care providers in key medical specialties. Palliative care and psychiatry are two arenas in which the scarcity of providers is a serious issue, especially in rural areas, according to the health system.
Shore Regional Health plans to expand psychiatry telehealth services to Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown and Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, which are currently without dedicated onsite behavioral health services and resources. It also will expand palliative care telehealth services to the Chestertown hospital, and to the Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at Chestertown.
This is not Shore Regional Health’s first project with telehealth. The medical system currently has telehealth programs running for pediatric and intensive care patients, said Dr. Marc Zubrow, vice president of telemedicine and medical director of eCare for the University of Maryland Medical System
The telehealth ICU program has been running the longest, for about three years. Zubrow said it is a “very sophisticated, integrated system” that allows for “pretty much everything that we could see at the bedside, we could see at the teleICU.”
“We know that with the teleICU support, the number of transfers out of the three hospitals at Shore Health has diminished considerably, with improvements in their overall mortality, their hospital length of stay, their ICU length of stay, their reductions in complications,” Zubrow said.
He said telehealth is very applicable for the “not-so-sick” patients, or the patients in the emergency room who need an opinion from an expert not on site before being sent home. But, Zubrow said that’s “not to say we wouldn’t use it on an acutely, critically ill” patient.
“Before we had gotten into telemedicine, often times the (patient) would be sent up to Baltimore for a sec- ond opinion and, you know, it would take the whole day and the same thing would be accomplished,” Zubrow said. “Whereas this way, in a 10-minute telemedicine referral and discussion, we could take care of that.”
Huffner said that with any new technology, it is important to study how it is used in a way that will allow the best practices to develop.
“This grant will help us ensure that we make the best use of telehealth by addressing a number of questions, such as: What factors about a patient’s condition make the use of telehealth ideal or less than ideal? What are the boundaries of telehealth, in terms of patient tolerance and satisfaction?” Huffner said.
One challenge Shore Region- al Health has sought to address with palliative care is to include not only patients, but also key family members in discussions so that everyone understands the care options.
“Telehealth may prove very successful in achieving that goal by enabling the patient, the provider and family members, including those at varied remote locations, to participate in a three-way telehealth discussion,” Huffner said.
Annapolis Allergy and Asthma opened its Centreville location at 227 North Liberty Street in November. Shore Health is looking at offering palliative care and psychiatry there via telehealth.
Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown provides emergency services to residents of Queen Anne’s County and surrounding areas. The center has served more than 15,000 patients since opening five years ago.
University of Maryland Shore Regional Health officials are working to bring expanded telemedicine services to Shore Medical Center at Chestertown, pictured above. They also are working to expand services in Queen Anne’s County.