Telehealth Helps to Grow Rural Hospital Systems


It may seem unheard of to drive two towns over to see a doctor, but limited healthcare access is a reality for many rural areas. Regular primary care practitioner visits are scheduled further apart, and when patients need to see a specialist, they may spend half a day traveling to the nearest clinic.

The CDC uses several approaches to improve healthcare for rural communities, including educating providers about telehealth options. With the advent of telehealth and the adoption of smarter, more connected healthcare devices, a growing number of rural patients can seek higher quality of care closer to home.

Allina Health, a four-hospital system in the greater St. Paul-Minneapolis area, was struggling to serve the needs of rural communities, especially when it came to specialist areas like cardiology. They were finding that doctors were spending more time on the road traveling and less time seeing patients. “Driving all over is not a good use of a cardiologist’s time,” Paula Maidl, Manager of Virtual Care Technology at Allina Health, said.

Growing Telehealth Services

She was right. Their first telemedicine extension was in telestroke, which proved their ability to help patients outside their facilities. They didn’t want the growth into other services to be limited by either the hardware or applications, so they looked for something that could be agnostic and still meet their demands. She reached out to the expert team at IDS, who helped to roll out additional programs with carts and video conferencing solutions.

Within a few months, Allina Health launched its TeleHeart service and continued to introduce other specialty areas, like telehospital, telepsychiatry, and remote mental health assessments for emergency room admissions. The quick expansion needed to be strategic as well, which is why they knew having data analytics as part of their new programs would be crucial.

HIMSS speaker Dr. Saima Aftab, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, tells Healthcare IT News, “Selection of information and technology tools, video platform enhancements, and process improvement initiatives are keys to growing and sustaining quality telehealth programs.” Part of this selection process includes knowing what and where the value of your telehealth program lies. Aftab continues, “Telehealth will play a pivotal role in the healthcare delivery system.”

Integrating Data Analytics

Integrating the Telehealth Resource Program (TRP) platform, powered by Ignis Health, was part of Allina Health’s growth strategy. “The biggest advantage of Ignis Health TRP, especially during the pandemic, was the ability to self-monitor our VidyoHealth license usage so we could scale and adjust based on demand and need,” says Maidl. The platform allows them to see license usage, troubleshoot connectivity issues, and run reports to analyze data quickly.

The expansion of their telehealth practice has led Allina Health to explore more specialist services, like infectious diseases and pulmonology, which can be extended to rural areas. They are even considering using VidyoHealth as a video communication tool in operating rooms for remote specialists to provide feedback during surgeries.

Extending their telehealth services has never been easier for Allina Health with the help of IDS’ expert team of design engineers, who truly understood Allina Health’s needs and how serving rural communities was a huge part of their mission.

If you are ready to grow your telehealth strategy, let IDS help you throughout the process.