Deliver Virtual Care Through Community Sites for Greater Access
Intermountain Healthcare, Utah’s largest health system, has a robust telehealth program anchored by a virtual hospital. As virtual-visit growth skyrocketed — from 80 visits per month in February to 60,000 visits per week in April — the system saw a need to make sure its rural patients were not left behind.
“There are many different barriers that come into play for giving people in rural areas the same level of healthcare, whether it’s geography, economy, education or health literacy,” says Dr. Kerry Palakanis, executive director of Intermountain Connect Care, the organization’s telehealth platform.
The health system’s teleoncology program, for example, enables residents of rural parts of Utah (as well as Idaho and Montana) to receive chemotherapy and consult with oncologists via community hospitals.
Patients avoid hours-long commutes to Salt Lake City over and through the mountains — which could exacerbate nausea after chemo — and save time and money. It may also help patients avoid missing extra time from their jobs.
“It’s not a different way to provide care, it’s a different way to access care,” says Palakanis, who has spent the bulk of her 35-year career working in underserved rural and frontier areas. “Most people in rural areas will give up and wouldn’t go for treatment if the teleoncology didn’t exist. A small drop of an impact has a huge ripple effect.”
Make Primary Care a Core Component of Telehealth
Simply implementing virtual-visit technology to deliver high-quality care isn’t enough to serve vulnerable populations, Palakanis and other healthcare leaders know
Clinical workflows, staffing, training, infrastructure and payment models all need to be adjusted.
To address these needs, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have released a series of reports that address the needs of underserved populations in California that provide several policy recommendations.
In the Golden State alone, 7 million people live in an area with a shortage of healthcare providers; the state also has a shortage of 54,000 Latino physicians, says Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.