Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Virtual Care to Enhance Medical Care at St. Luke’s Wood River
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Doctors demonstrate a medication check, showing how a nurse at the Virtual Care Center can zoom in and read the print on the label. COURTESY: St. Luke’s
   
Thursday, June 10, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Dr. Terry Ahern might have been forgiven for feeling his anxiety level increase as a non-English speaking man entered the emergency department at St. Luke’s Wood River, possibly having suffered a stroke.

But this time a neurologist specializing in stroke had Ahern’s back. And Ahern also had ready access to an interpreter.

The neurologist joined him during a CT scan via a telescreen to help Ahern figure out if the man needed a special clot busting medicine that needs to be provided within a half-hour of a stroke. The interpreter, who also appeared via a telescreen, was able to help the man recount his story as both doctors listened.

 
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St. Luke’s 24/7 centralized medial team of up to 350 clinicians and specialists use technology care for patients throughout Idaho and Eastern Oregon. COURTESY: St. Luke’s
 

“Ultimately, we decided not to give the medicine and the man ended up doing fine,” said Ahern. “It was a case where it all came together well. And having that extra bedside, real-time consultation with a neurologist who specializes in stroke really helped.”

Geography no longer prevents Wood River Valley residents from having access to top neurologists, pediatric specialists and others, thanks to St. Luke’s expanded telehealth services. St. Luke’s Virtual Care Center is one of only a few in the nation, providing virtual medical technology to rural communities when they need it.

Specialists at the $3.4-million 35,000-square-foot Virtual Care Center inside St. Luke’s Plaza in downtown Boise use state-of-the-art, two-way cameras and remote monitoring equipment to diagnose and treat patients outside the Boise area. The Center’s doctors and nurses can zoom in to monitor patients’ vital signs to support onsite caregivers, order tests as needed, read results and provide immediate evaluations for patients in Ketchum and elsewhere.

Nurses in the high-tech hub can also monitor vital signs like heart rate, blood sugar and oxygen levels of patients at home to cut down the need for patients to go to the emergency room.

“We are all excited about the expanded telehealth services recently instituted in our Emergency Department,” said Ahern, St. Luke’s Wood River Emergency Department medical director. “Having real-time videos consults with St. Luke's pediatricians and stroke neurologists will undeniably add value to a patients Emergency Department visit and help to drive exceptional care at our Wood River hospital." 

 

Patients have the same access to services and support of those in Boise hospitals via the Virtual Care Center, said Krista Stadler, St. Luke’s Health System senior director of Telehealth Services.

The expanded virtual care encompasses telepsychiatry, diabetes consultation and more. But Ahern said its biggest value is the telestroke program. The hospital contracted with a team or neurologists that provide high-level real-time stroke care. Before, Ahern and other doctors could consult a specialist via phone, but being able to see the patient adds a new dimension.

“Our goal is not to increase the number of people who get the medicine but to increase the accuracy when it comes to determining whether they’re eligible or not,” said Stadler.

 

St. Luke’s Virtual Care Center opened in August 2018 and became a vital part of the hospital system’s operations during the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 200,000 clinic visits being conducted via telehealth since March 2020.

Wood River and Nampa are the first to come online. The enhanced service will be rolled out to hospitals in McCall, Fruitland, Elmore, Jerome, Twin Falls, Meridian and Boise in the next several months.

It will provide additional support should Idaho not be able to recruit enough physicians to serve its growing population, Stadler said. It also will prove useful here during winter when snowstorms ground St. Luke’s helicopter and fixed wing, said Angela Brady, a nurse at St. Luke’s Wood River.

 

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