Telemedicine is changing how the health care industry is providing care to its patients around the country. In rural America, it may be the key tool between life and death.

The power of teamwork

One example of this is Avera Health’s eEmergency program. In 2009, Avera Health launched eEmergency to connect small, rural hospitals with top-quality medical staff with emergency skills and expertise. From 2009 to 2016, Avera eEmergency has expanded to serve more than 150 rural hospitals across ten states and has saved an estimated 1,800 lives.

eEmergency uses interactive and high-definition video and audio equipment in emergency rooms. With the push of a red button, local staff is connected with board-certified emergency physicians and critical-care nurses at a hospital hub in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Lynette Dickson, associate director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota, works closely with rural hospitals located in North Dakota, many of which are using Avera’s eEmergency service.

“It’s not the magic bullet for everything,” Dickson said. “However, there is a significant benefit, especially in rural areas, to support our rural providers, keep patients local, when appropriate, and improve access to care with eEmergency.”

Since its inception, Avera eEmergency has seen more than 40,000 video encounters and avoided more than 4,000 potential patient transfers while using this service.”

A remarkable tool

Since its inception, Avera eEmergency has seen more than 40,000 video encounters and avoided more than 4,000 potential patient transfers while using this service. This allows patients to stay within their communities, which keeps transfer costs down.

Tammy Hatting, business development manager for Avera eCARE, said feedback from the hospitals using Avera eEmergency is overwhelmingly positive.

“There are so many benefits to having access to a board-certified emergency physician for our rural sites,” Hatting said. “Our service really helps the rural workforce. We know that some small community hospitals have only advanced practice practitioners and they don’t see an emergency trauma every day. For them to be able to hit the button and have the whole local staff collaborate with our hub in Sioux Falls, it not only helps them feel better that they are doing the right thing but it’s also helping them enhance their skills.”

Hatting also said this tool is having a great impact on rural hospitals’ ability to attract new physicians.

“I’ve talked to people who have said that if their hospital didn’t have eEmergency they wouldn’t practice there,” Hatting said. “This is helping recruit new providers to these rural places… There is a lot of pressure on them to know everything there is to know, so eEmergency has really helped support recruitment and retention.”