I was excited to see Augusta University Research Institute featured on the local news for the phenomenal work they are accomplishing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Augusta University is using telemedicine equipment that they purchased with a grant from USDA Rural Development to run an emergency telehealth hub in rural Georgia. The hub connected five hospitals to diagnostic and educational experts at Augusta University. The goal is to help Emergency Room doctors access highly trained healthcare professionals by telemedicine and to shorten travel for rural patients to reach care and, ultimately, to improve health-related quality of life.
These goals and more are being realized as this emergency telehealth network is evolving. Using advanced capabilities such as remote ultrasound, doctors can direct patients to hospitals that can meet their needs and avoid unneeded emergency room visits. For example, a patient was advised that his serious leg injury could be seen at the facility outpatient clinic rather than an immediate trip to the Emergency Room.
During the pandemic this telehealth hub has become a vital component as COVID-19 patient care is coordinated. Just two COVID-19 patients at a rural hospital can be overwhelming and the hub has served to coordinate transfers of patients from overburdened facilities to hospitals that have capacity.
There is also an educational and life-saving component of the network. Armed with specialized intubation enhancements, the University is helping ER doctors with intubations (Intubation is a medical procedure where a tube is inserted in the mouth and then into the airway. This is done so that a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing). When the University applied for the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant in 2017, we couldn’t have known that such an enhancement would become so vitally needed in fighting a pandemic.
While I am always filled with pride at the important mission of Rural Development, this every day work accomplished by Augusta University’s emergency telehealth network highlights how prosperity comes from working together. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives.