Patients in the small Delta town of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, now have easier access to healthcare with the help of telemedicine. The ARcare clinic, located in the small town of just over 600, had only been open two days per week. Since February, the clinic is open five days a week and is offering care through the use of telemedicine.
“Cotton Plant is one of the original three clinics that ARcare started. We’re committed to our patients there and the other communities we serve. We’ve been here for over 40 years and we will do our best to continue to serve our patients,” said Dr. Steven Collier, director of ARcare.
While telemedicine is not new to the state, providing primary care services utilizing telemedicine is very new. Many of the smaller Arkansas towns cannot afford to have a primary care clinic open more than just a few days each week. With the expanded hours utilizing telemedicine, the clinic in Cotton Plant was able to offer services to 80 additional patients in February.
“So far, our patients are loving it. One of the biggest things is they don’t feel slighted by not seeing the provider in person and they’re able to get the care they would normally get,” said Collier.
The clinic in Cotton Plant is currently sharing the provider with Swifton, which is located about 60 miles away. The provider there can see her normal patients and the nurse at Cotton Plant can get the patients checked in, take vitals and be the hands of the provider. The patients are scheduled into the normal work flow at each clinic. The provider can work with the nurse if more information is needed, like describing how a patient’s skin feels or if a wound has a smell.
“Prior to telemedicine, patients only had the option of being seen in the clinic two days a week. If our provider wasn’t in, they would have to wait or drive to another town to get the medical care they needed,“ said Lauren Fields, ARcare Chief Coordinated Care Officer.
Patients are now able to come into the clinic without having to wait until the provider is there in person. Through telemedicine, ARcare has been able to keep the providers more centrally located, decrease the amount of travel time and offer more time for patients to be seen.
“ARcare’s business model is all about access to care. Our telehealth platform enables our organization to provide quality healthcare to rural markets in a more efficient way, said Chris Gibson, ARcare CCO.
By utilizing a nurse at the clinic, they can be the hands of the clinician and perform services like heart and lung exams. Tools like the EKO digital stethoscope and digital Firefly, used for ear, nose and throat exams, allow the nurse to share live, real-time images and sound with the provider.
“We are extremely pleased by the response we have gotten by offering the expanded hours utilizing telemedicine,” Fields said.
The shortage of primary care providers is currently a nationwide issue, making it even more difficult to reach patients in rural areas. Some reports project shortages of up to 120,000 by the year 2030, which will have an even greater pact on patient care across the nation, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“Today’s healthcare consumer wants the convenience and easy access to quality care that telemedicine offers,” said Clint Shackelford, regional vice president of ARcare.
UAMS e-Link is working with providers across the state in an effort to help fill the gaps in healthcare coverage. Currently, there are more than 400 healthcare and education entities utilizing the e-Link network. Many of them are seeing the benefits of telemedicine not only by helping patients gain access to healthcare, but also by helping to reduce costs for broadband and networking infrastructure. The Graham Center predicts that for Arkansas to continue to provide medical services at the current level, there will need to be an additional 410 primary care physicians added to the state–that’s a 23% increase of physicians from 2010.
“With the recent news headlines about the shortages of primary care providers in the state, technology is hopefully going to help fill gaps for residents in our smaller Arkansas towns. We are impressed with the willingness of ARcare to be one of the first groups in the state to embrace technology as a way of providing greater access to care for their patients,” said Roy Kitchen, UAMS e-Link Director.
While healthcare continues to change and become more technology driven, UAMS e-Link and its partners around the state continue to leverage one of the largest telehealth networks in the country to develop new ways of delivering healthcare to patients across Arkansas.
“With our smaller communities that have declining populations, telemedicine is what’s going to help keep our clinics running. We can share providers and still provide the same level of care to our patients- that’s our commitment to them. Failure is not an option where caring for our patients is concerned,” said Collier.