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Better healthcare in rural America: Technology can connect to doctors anywhere

Posted at 3:33 AM, Sep 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-22 03:34:36-04

LANSING, Mich. — Right now, there are 14 million people in this country without access to the internet. It's an especially sobering reality for rural communities now more than ever they're depending on telemedicine to get health-care because of COVID. Chris Conte found an idea that could soon save lives by using technology to bring doctors wherever they're needed.

The landscape is breathtaking where land and sky seem to shake hands is the place Kimberly Danforth calls home.

I have been here my whole life from the edge of Jackman, Maine you can see Canada. 686 people live here. One of them was Kimberly's great grandfather who started this general store in 1950.

When people come here they come here to get away from it all getting away from it all though means sacrifice. Perhaps none more vital than access to an emergency room. You sign up for being further away from all of the things people have easy access to when they live in a city.

Time is one of those factors we’re always fighting against as a rural paramedic, Nathan Yerxa is responsible for covering an area that's the size of Rhode Island.

The remote landscape and difficult terrain make it difficult to bring resources to the area,getting patients to the emergency room is a 70 mile one-way trip. So in an effort to save time and lives, the E.R. is being brought here.

"I think it’s one of those situations where what’s old is new again, the idea is a critical access integrated paramedic program.paramedics here are receiving more training in critical care while at the same time, being outfitted with tools like satellite internet and heart rate monitors that can send data wirelessly to a doctor anywhere.and with that technology paramedics can instantly connect to a doctor, no matter where they take a callfrom stitches, to ultrasounds, the idea is for these paramedics to bridge the rural healthcare gap.

While being able to lean on the expertise of a doctor via video chat who may be hours away.

"It is in many ways like a high-tech home visit, that you might have seen 60 years ago but we’re also bringing urgent care services with us."

Finding news ways for rural communities to connect is a key component to the program's success.

Nationwide 25 million people don't have access to broadband.

COVID has only magnified the issue. In Maine alone 36 thousand telehealth calls were made last month.up from 650 the same time last year, a 5,600 percent increase.

Jackman town manager Victoria Forkus pushed hard for the program. We were in a way forced to implement this new program early because of COVID the whole thing is costing this community 450 thousand dollars a year to implement.

Some of the money will come from a tax increase. No small feat in a town where the median income is just 29 thousand dollars. What’s the dollar amount on one of my neighbor’s lives? What’s the cost of saving a community member and it’s priceless. "I think the model we’re developing here is sustainable, everybody should have access to healthcare, it just looks different, a hope that the level of healthcare in rural america might one day rival the beauty of places like this.

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