A federal grant announced Friday should make it easier for Oklahomans who live in rural parts of the state to access health care without having to drive to see doctors in their offices or hospitals.
A Federal Communications Commission grant to Mercy included $776,620 specifically to improve and expand telehealth services provided by Mercy in Oklahoma.
Mercy has received approximately $2.2 million in total from the FCC to invest in telehealth to benefit patients who live in the Sooner State as well as Arkansas and Missouri.
According to David Hinkle, executive director of business operations for Mercy’s Virtual Care Center, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has enabled more than 800,000 virtual visits between Mercy patients and providers. By contrast, in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, only about 10,000 provider-patient meetings were conducted virtually.
Hinkle said the lessons learned — along with additional investments — should improve telehealth care even further, especially for people who live in rural areas of the tri-states.
“When we applied for the grant as part of our COVID response, we looked at what we did in the early months of the pandemic and how technology enabled our initial COVID response,” Hinkle said. “We were able to limit exposure at the bedside because patients could connect to our caregivers from home. We were also able to provide invaluable communication between hospitalized COVID patients and their families. Additional funding will provide more telehealth opportunities across Mercy’s footprint, especially in our rural facilities.
While people will no doubt continue to see healthcare providers in person, telehealth will open the doors of care – even virtually – to many people who may be housebound due to conditions, or who might just need to check in frequently while doctors monitor their routine. care. And, according to experts, in addition to facilitating access to general practitioners, telehealth will also improve connections between patients and highly specialized healthcare providers who may practice in distant cities.
Dr. Gavin Helton, president of Mercy Virtual, said fundamental work to improve the virtual care space has been accelerated by the pandemic.
“We had to act very quickly when the pandemic hit,” he said. “(But) we were able to quickly scale up and deliver care to our communities without patients needing to leave their homes.”
Now, the $2.2 million grant will further expand video conferencing and other capabilities. Large facilities as well as rural ones will benefit, Helton said.
The FCC grant totaled $793,788 for Mercy in Missouri and $647,154 for Mercy in Arkansas.
Mercy is a highly integrated, multi-state healthcare system comprising more than 40 acute, managed and specialty hospitals, convenience and urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 medical practices and ambulatory care facilities, 2,400 Mercy Clinic physicians and more than 40,000 colleagues serving patients and families in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services, and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.