The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Aspirus brings in extra doctor help through telehealth


March 2, 2019

IRONWOOD — Aspirus Hospital in Ironwood is using remote technology to offer patients expanded access to physicians.

David Sim, manager of marketing and public relations for Aspirus, said it’s not always easy for the hospital to find enough doctors to work in the area.

“It’s hard for rural communities to compete with such high demand,” he said. “Everybody wants more providers.”

Telehealth addresses this problem by allowing doctors to live anywhere in the world, but work where they are most needed.

During a demonstration, a doorbell sounding chime indicated the doctor was arriving. Dr. Steve Ward, donning a white coat with a stethoscope draped around his neck, appeared over a high resolution screen.

Ward is an internal medicine board-licensed physician practicing in Michigan. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he works from his home office using a high speed internet connection.

Aspirus hospital upgraded its high speed wireless network to ensure communication is clear with no lag time during the digital conversations. The doctor said the system’s cameras have the capability to zoom in and see nearly anything in the room.

“Family members might have notes, or something they want to hold up to the screen for us to read. We can read it” Ward said.

When a patient comes into the emergency room, the hospital staff calls a telehealth provider. The remote provider then accesses the patient’s medical records using an electronic medical record system and consults with the onsite medical team to come up with a plan for taking care of the patient.

Once a determination is made that the patient needs to be hospitalized, the patient is then transferred from the E.R. to a medical floor. Medical staff help the patient get situated in the room while the remote doctor visits the room via a wheeled telehealth cart.

“I’m available to see the patient over the video to conduct an interview and talk to the patient and family members,” Ward said.

He admits patients at first may be a little hesitant to having a remote health care provider and question how the process works. He said patients sometimes think a remote doctor will not be able to make a proper diagnoses, but the teleheatlh cart has plug-ins to monitor the patient’s vitals.

“We have a USB plug stethoscope that is actually quite good,” Ward said. “I can hear heart and lung sounds through the audio capability of the computer.”

One of the reasons virtual doctors uses the telehealth cart, instead of a screen attached to a wall, is to better simulate an onsite physician bedside visit, he said. The main goal of telehealth is to keep patients local and still provide around the clock access to a doctor, he added.

He said overall, the response from his patients has been positive, especially with some of his older patients who are amazed with the technology.

“Some of my elderly patients have commented by saying, ‘I finally get to see a virtual doctor,’ or ‘It’s finally becoming like Star Trek,’” Ward said.


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