Introducing Tele-ED: Stay local for specialized emergency medicine care

Optim Medical Center-Screven has a new tool that will make it easier to provide necessary healthcare.

The hospital has partnered with Augusta University Medical Center to provide Optim with AU Telehealth, a system allowing doctors and patients to conference with health care specialists over a video call.

Optim’s director of marketing Meg Pace said, “If a patient arrives in our [emergency department] that needs a higher level of specialty care than we may be able to offer, our ED now has instant and direct access to specialists.”

When someone makes a call from Optim to AU, it’s directed to a telehealth team that is available 24/7. The calls are made via a virtual private network to keep patients’ information secure and confidential. Each member of the telehealth team is an emergency physician with critical-care experience who can help with a lot of general issues, but if need be, they can virtually conference in a specialist to consult. 

The team is led by Matt Lyon, another emergency medicine physician, who explained that in many situations at rural hospitals, a patient may have a bigger issue or complication and they are transferred to a bigger hospital “just in case.” But, many times it proves unnecessary, leading to loss of revenue to the local hospital, higher medical bills for the patient, and time wasted. 

By preventing a transfer, Optim can keep more of the billed revenue, patients can get answers faster and while there is a fee for the service, it is covered by insurance and is much lower than the $1,000 or more it would cost an emergency vehicle to transport them 60 or more miles away.

The system also answers a public perception problem.

“You’re a rural county hospital, and then you start transferring patients because you don’t have a cardiologist or a surgeon or something like that, or your providers don’t feel comfortable with something, so you transfer them,” Lyon said. “Well, transferring that one patient may be fine, but if you do it over and over, then the community loses confidence that you can take care of things in their local community.

Since launching the program in summer 2020, AU has seen about 1,200 patients in rural county hospitals and kept 80% of them from needing to be transferred. The program had a soft launch in Sylvania last August, and has been running at full-force over the last few weeks. Pace said they utilized the telehealth system on its very first day and they have seen an immediate impact since.

“It a gamechanger for rural residents and hospitals,” she said. “We’d like to make sure that Screven County residents know they can go to Optim Medical Center-Screven for even more healthcare services than they realize.”

Miguel Legoas Augusta Chronicle

Photo | Optim Medical Center-Screven Emergency Department standing next to TeleED equipment: Stacy Tapley, RN; Dru McBride, RN; Alice Thomas, LPN; Christi Guhl, LPN; and Tina Hood, PA-C.