CANTON - A nursing home in western Maine has adopted a new telemedicine program that gives residents and patients bedside access to primary and specialty care services that until now were mostly available only in urban and larger metropolitan areas.
Pinnacle Health & Rehab in Canton has implemented a unique telemedicine model that assigns a dedicated practitioner to the facility. Clinicians are available on weekdays and on demand to work virtually with on-site nursing teams as part of regular and scheduled rounds.
Having daily virtual access to an on-site medical team in rural nursing homes helps to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations when medical conditions change. It also reduces the need for long, costly and uncomfortable trips outside the facilities for basic evaluations or specialty consults and eliminates delays in waiting for an open appointment.
“The capabilities of technology are radically changing how patient care is delivered in the 21st century, and we are proud to be partnering with Tapestry Telehealth, a leading name in the field of telemedicine. Pinnacle’s mission is to provide the absolute best in resident care and we are confident that this partnership will help us achieve this goal,” Pinnacle CEO Israel Nachfolger said.
The telemedicine program, MyCare Now™ by Tapestry Telehealth, also helps facilities improve and maintain Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) quality and rating measures, especially as regulations governing long-term care change. Pinnacle already achieves CMS’s highest rating of five stars, so adding telemedicine ensures its continued high performance.
“Just a decade ago, I was so excited to arrange for weekly visits by a physician. Now, we are going to have high-quality medical care available throughout the week. This will be a wonderful program for our residents,” said Administrator Mark Jacobs, who has run the facility for 20 years and seen firsthand the evolving nature of care.
Pinnacle’s telemedicine program is unique because it provides a dedicated nurse practitioner supported by a full-scope multi-specialty medical and behavioral health group. (Most telemedicine programs offer only silos of care --- for wound care or psychiatry, for example --- rather than a comprehensive medical team.) Having a dedicated practitioner is important because it means he or she gets to know the residents and patients as much as the staff, and that knowledge and consistency of care help to improve medical outcomes.
The primary care team includes nurse practitioners who integrate with the facilities’ attending physicians. Specialty services include wound care, cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, infectious disease, neurology, pain control, palliative care, pulmonology, renal-nephrology and physiatry. Patients have access to daily behavioral services, including both scheduled and 24/7 emergency mental health care and family communication and support.
“Everyone deserves access to quality health care, no matter where they live,” Tapestry’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Chess said. “But making sure medical care is available on site every day in rural nursing homes is a challenge. Programs like this close the gap to improve lives and enhance care. Telemedicine services also reduce costs on our health-care system by helping to prevent avoidable and unnecessary hospitalizations.”
How Rural Telemedicine Works
Pinnacle has an easy-to-use, portable telemedicine cart that puts medical professionals at the bedside as part of daily rounds or in moments when conditions change or concerns emerge. The stations are designed for quick visits and simple setup to save nurses time and make seeing patients easy.
A large monitor allows residents and medical professionals to see and speak directly with each other in real time. Working closely with facility nursing staff, clinicians examine patients using a digitally enhanced stethoscope to listen to the heart, lungs and chest; an otoscope to examine the throat and ears; and a high-definition camera to examine even the smallest wound or skin irritation.
The facility nurse and telehealth clinician also work cooperatively to conduct thorough abdominal, musculoskeletal and neurological examinations. The telehealth clinicians can order tests, start treatments and monitor conditions, and because they are dedicated to the facilities, they stay involved every step of the way to ensure patients get healthy and families stay informed.