Transforming Rural Healthcare for Patients and Physicians

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Rural medicine can be a lonely job. From car accidents to premature deliveries to septic shock, you have to be ready for whatever comes through the doors on any given day or any given minute. Thankfully, Intermountain Healthcare has made several significant changes over the past few years that are transforming life for this rural physician and my patients.

TeleHealth Improving Access to Care

For instance, technology is enabling us to provide enhanced care and in some instances avoid transfer altogether through TeleHealth.

Last year, our nurseries at the hospitals in Delta, Fillmore, Mt. Pleasant and Richfield were equipped with audiovisual communication tools that make it possible to co-manage critical newborns with the neonatology group at Utah Valley Hospital. Our Emergency Departments have been similarly equipped to allow consultations with neurologists for possible stroke patients. Cancer patients are now seeing oncologists via TeleHealth and receiving chemotherapy in Richfield. 

Improved Electronic Medical Records

Our new electronic medical record, iCentra, also facilitates easy communication with specialists at urban hospitals for phone consultations or transfers. In most instances, it allows them to see our patients’ labs, studies, and images in real time.  A mere 10 years ago, I had to read all my trauma c-spine films myself, whereas a radiologist at Utah Valley Hospital now reads the CT scan and gets me results within minutes. 

Recruiting More Specialists

Another example of the changes being made to improve rural medicine is the number of specialists we’re recruiting to work fulltime in our communities. This allows patients to receive more of their care close to home.

We now have three general surgeons, two orthopedists, two podiatrists, two radiologists, one internist, one ENT, one pain management specialist, and one urologist.  Within the past few months we have begun outpatient pre-diabetes and diabetes education in our clinics in partnership with the diabetes team at American Fork Hospital. We also have two OB/GYNs starting soon. Each of these physicians will provide vital care to patients who often cannot manage the travel necessary to see a specialist in another location.

Rural Medicine Has Come a Long Way

Not all patients, however, can receive the care they need in a rural facility. Advancements are being made in our ability to transport these individuals as well.

Prior to the mid-1970s, there was no official ambulance service, and the mortuary actually served as the primary means to transfer patients to larger facilities. One local doctor in Richfield even used his private airplane at times to fly patients himself!  EMS services were eventually implemented to facilitate safer transfer. This has recently been enhanced through a partnership with Intermountain LifeFlight which certifies our local nurses as LifeFlight nurses and provides enhanced training and safety for ground transfer. Our most critical patients are still flown by the original LifeFlight, usually to Utah Valley Hospital.

At the end of the day, the single most important thing that allows us to provide excellent care to our patients is the physicians and other caregivers who work in our community. These rural providers give of their time, talents, expertise, and compassion in some very isolated situations — knowing the nearest trauma center, intensive care unit, or specialty referral center is more than two hours away. They’re truly modern-day heroes, and it’s an honor to work with them as we continue to transform rural medicine in Utah.