Grant expands St. Clare’s telemedicine capabilities

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Remote interface will be available beyond the ER

Kevin Murphy, Times Herald Correspondent

Colleen Koski, director of Patient Care Services at HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital, consults with Dr. Jocko Zifferblatt, medical director of HSHS St. Vincent and St. Mary’s Emergency Departments, during a demonstration of the Emergency Telemedicine technology at HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital. (Contributed photo)

MADISON – A second state grant that HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital has been awarded in as many years will allow medical and surgical patients and clinicians to consult in real time with specialists in Green Bay and elsewhere.

The $50,360 grant the Public Service Commission awarded earlier this month will be used to acquire a second “robot-like” device that provides St. Clare patients an audio/visual interaction with an off-site specialist. The patient’s condition can be jointly assessed and the specialist can collaborate with the patient’s physician on a treatment program, said David Lally, St. Clare’s director of business development.

After receiving a larger grant in 2016, St. Clare’s emergency department began using a portable device equipped with a high-resolution camera and monitor dedicated to telestroke and related patient care.

“The patient is in a room and the nurse or doctor wheels in the device … for a three-way consult. A specialist is on the remote side and … can talk to and see the patient,” Lally said.

The first “robot-like” device the hospital acquired had to be available around-the-clock to the emergency department, but hospital staff quickly realized that telemedicine’s capabilities can enhance care for patients in other departments, and a second grant application was submitted.

On Monday, Lally could not say how many of the 5,000 patients who visit the emergency department annually have utilized the telemedicine device, but a second device would not be acquired without the financial assistance of the state grant.

“There is no direct revenue stream generated because of this device … so it’s not likely that it would be acquired,” he said.

St. Clare staff will determine how often the new device is used, but this innovative technology provides “another tool at the disposal of our clinicians,” Lally said.

Instead of transferring a patient to Green Bay or another city for care, the device increases the possibility that the patient can remain in Oconto Falls and receive the care they need, he said.

Avoiding those transfers can reduce stress and costs for the patient and retain revenue that the hospital may otherwise lose to another facility, Lally said.

A stethoscope and other medical monitoring equipment can be plugged into the portable device, giving the remote specialist up-to-the-second patient readings.

The telemedicine program is a key component to the hospital being able to deliver health care and its success is “critical because most of our patients live in rural … areas that normally experience … less access to quality specialty health care,” Dan De Groot, St. Clare’s chief operating officer wrote in the grant application.

St. Clare contributed $5,000 in matching funds, and the Innovation Institute of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis Foundation contributed $10,000 toward the grant.

Once the state grant is received, another three to six months may be needed until the second device is ready to be put to use, Lally said.

Since staff is cross-trained and familiar with the Emergency Department’s device, additional credentialing or training for the second device will be minimal, he said.

Although it is “two for two,” in successfully applying for state grants, Lally has not begun applying for a third.

“We were excited to hear that we were awarded this grant, and we’ll focus on getting this and implementing it,” he said.

The PSC has awarded grants through the Universal Service Fund to nonprofit groups in nine out of the past 10 years. Similar to the broadband grant program, the PSC awards a maximum of $500,000 annually in USF grants to improve access to telecommunications in underserved areas of the state.

Last year, the PSC approved 16 projects totaling $455,188. This year, it received 19 grants totaling $558,684 and awarded 18 grants totaling $499,619, according to a PSC order.