Telehospitalist Program Helps Rural Medical Center

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FORT DODGE, Iowa — You might see the doctor in a different way at one Iowa hospital, and it could help solve a problem for health care in rural Iowa.

“We joke, it’s our doc on wheels, we’re bringing the doc on wheels,” said UnityPoint Health Trinity Regional Medical Center Nurse Manager Christina Fevold.

The hospital rolled out the telehospitalist program in November. “We use web-side manner with this program,” said Fevold.

The program uses technology to bring providers to a patient’s bedside on the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. Hospitalist Medical Director Dr. Alex Cathey demonstrated how it works. “The telehospitalist program is a program that allows trained physicians to interact with patients virtually over the computer. The telehospitalists can do everything that I as a regular physician can do, except things that require arms, and so we have the nurses help us with that part of it,” he said.

Registered Nurse Jenna Linder brought the cart to the beside. “He can zoom into whatever he needs to,” she said.

The technology allows the telenocturnists, as they’re called, to zoom in to see the patient, move the camera around to talk to family members, and listen to a patient’s heart, lungs, and stomach.

“The physicians that do this all the time are very experienced at it and do a great job of sort of developing that connection with the patient and the family,” said Dr. Cathey.

Six telenocturnists based around the country serve Trinity Regional Medical Center, which helps with staffing of the rural hospital. “As a rural facility, sometimes it is difficult to recruit in physicians. This allows us to kind of spread out the coverage of physicians,” said Dr. Cathey.

He said Trinity Regional Medical Center was the first in UnityPoint Health’s system to use the Telehospitalist program, but nine other rural locations use it now as well.

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