Telemedicine reaches out to rural Montana

Montana Health Journal

Kalispell Regional telemedicine program brings stroke, neonatal help to rural areas

Montana Health Journal — Telemedicine is stretching its wings at Kalispell Regional Healthcare and partnering hospitals.

When a 32-week-old baby was born at Ronan’s St. Luke Community Healthcare at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, the baby arrived to the world in distress. But, thanks to a telemedicine network that was established initially for stroke care between the two hospitals, the tiny girl ended up in very good hands.

A.L.E.R.T. Helicopter Flight Nurse Doris Yeatts, RN, said the mom still was in labor when the call requesting transport came in from Ronan. She, EMT Laurel Smart and pilot Matt Weller began preparations for the flight. As they were leaving, Neonatologist Mark Kaneta, MD, floated the idea of using the InTouch Health technology.

“I said, ‘Yes, please,’” Doris recalled, “and we headed out.” When they touched down in Ronan, St. Luke’s medical team already had connected their end of the telemedicine equipment. Dr. Kaneta and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Clinical Specialist Mindy Fuzesy signed in from Kalispell and the dual sites began communicating verbally and visually.

The premature, hypotensive and hypoglycemic girl needed a dose of dextrose for her low blood glucose, and she needed a normal saline dose. As Laurel prepped all the supplies, Doris calculated dosages and began administering the life-saving medicines. At the same time, Mindy calculated the dosages and Dr. Kaneta assessed the infant via video link, viewing each procedure in real time.

Because Doris didn’t have to stop and report results to Dr. Kaneta at each step, treatment was much swifter. “I could see immediately what to do and whether it worked,” Dr. Kaneta said.

Right through the minutes that Doris and Laurel packaged the infant for transport back to the Kalispell neonatal intensive care unit, Doris felt solid support. The mother’s physician in Ronan called Dr. Kaneta the next day to say how much he liked the interaction.

KRMC’s referral hospitals in Libby, Ronan, Cut Bank and Whitefish have access to this teleneonatology service because of federal grant funding for the equipment. The same grant that funded KRMC’s InTouch start-up technology also covered the cost of these hospitals’ equipment. Over the past few years, two initiatives have helped pave the way for telemedicine in northwest Montana. The Federal Communications Commission awarded $13.6 million to fund the Health Information Exchange of Montana, which established an advanced fiber-optic network between KRMC and remote sites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tele-Stroke grant funded robotic equipment that allows Kalispell physicians to evaluate patients in real time in rural communities.

Most recently, KRMC was awarded a $373,658 grant from the USDA Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program to provide reliable telecommunications connectivity for four additional rural facilities.

To learn more about telemedicine at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, call (406) 751-3067

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