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Health Care Goes Virtual

January 8, 2021
graphic of a health care person in a computer

Telehealth brings a variety of health-related services to people across the state.

 

By Micaela Myers

 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth was a vital service in the state—allowing a wide variety of health services to be delivered remotely. In the spring, telehealth numbers soared (see below).

The University of Wyoming plays a vital role in the Wyoming Telehealth Network, a collaboration among the Wyoming Department of Health, Office of Rural Health, Medicaid, Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) and the College of Health Sciences.

“The intent is to increase the capacity of statewide providers and systems to implement telehealth as an evidence-based practice to increase access to high-quality and specialty care around the state,” says Wyoming Telehealth Network Director Canyon Hardesty. 

 

Service to the State

The Wyoming Telehealth Consortium was created by the Wyoming Legislature in 2009 to promote telehealth in Wyoming. The Wyoming Telehealth Network emerged from that initiative, connecting everyone with an interest in telehealth and providing technical and procedural support to providers, patients and other stakeholders.

“We are the core contractor to deliver professional development, community education and training to providers, health centers and hospitals so they are aware of the best practices needed to implement telehealth,” Hardesty says.

The network provides webinars, Zoom meetings and hundreds of technical assistance encounters to more than 2,000 providers. This includes procedures for delivery of specialty services. For example, delivery of telepsychiatry is far different than nutrition or genetics screenings. More than 50 specialties—including mental health counseling, family practice, physical therapy, speech-language, education, clinical psychology, internal medicine, occupational therapy, public health, nursing, orthopedics and psychiatry—are represented among member providers.

“We help to provide the infrastructure for education, technical assistance and building community capacity throughout the state,” Hardesty says.

While telehealth services surged throughout the world during the pandemic, they are especially vital for rural areas regardless of COVID-19. Telehealth allows people to receive services from specialists who are not located in their towns, preventing long drives and allowing access to those without transportation.

“Continuity of care is critically important,” Hardesty says.

For example, those receiving chronic disease management care can do so from their homes.

“It bridges the distance gap and bridges the access gap,” she says. “But most importantly, it allows the patient to be in charge of their services. For some services, like mental health in particular, patients are reporting they feel more comfortable doing that from their home.”

One of the consortium’s goals was to help address the shortage of mental health providers in the state.

Hardesty says that many providers who began offering telehealth during the pandemic indicate they will continue to offer the modality.

 

woman looking at a person on a screen
Students Autumn Ostlund and Elaine Romenesko demonstrate telehealth speech-language therapy via video conferencing.

Telehealth at UW

UW clinics such as the Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Psychology Center and the University Counseling Center utilize telehealth, as does the Family Medicine Residency Program.

For example, psychology Professor Matt Gray has been providing telehealth counseling and therapy services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors throughout the state for about a decade.

“Part of our role is to integrate education about telehealth service delivery and best practices within the college,” Hardesty says. “UW is really involved in pre-service education.”

The university also conducts telehealth-related research, including on mental health provisions in telehealth and related business impacts of COVID-19.

 

Point-of-Care Ultrasound

Telehealth is not the only service that the University of Wyoming employs to assist rural residents in the state. Point-of-care ultrasound is another emerging technology.

“In line with its mission to train doctors for practice and limited resources areas, the UW Family Medicine Residency Program in Casper has started a point-of-care ultrasound training curriculum,” says Family Medicine Residency Clinical Professor Dr. Michael Miller. “This curriculum utilizes state-of-the-art ultrasound training software, which uses a training probe to teach case-based use of ultrasound in the clinical setting. The program also purchased a state-of-the-art digital probe that can be plugged into an iPad or iPhone and used at the patient’s bedside to answer clinical questions. Point-of-care ultrasound can be used in rural or underserved settings as part of the physical exam to improve diagnostic capabilities.”

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Wyoming Telehealth Network Director Canyon Hardesty. “We now have the tools to deliver care outside of a clinical facility.

It is critical that we capitalize on this momentum and innovate tools and strategies to use telehealth to deliver high-quality comprehensive care at home.”

 

COVID-19 Produces Wyoming Telehealth Network Surge

January 2020

3,660 clinical/direct service encounters

2,504 administrative meetings

1,892 tele-education meetings

465 total providers enrolled in the WyTN over the lifetime of the program for education, Zoom accounts and listing in the provider directory

377 technical assistance encounters provided by WyTN

34 webinars and 741 participants

354 telehealth providers delivering telehealth via WyTN Zoom accounts in 41 different specialties

 

April 2020

27,896 clinical/direct service encounter

5,489 administrative meetings

3,974 tele-education meetings

2,218 total providers enrolled in the WyTN over the lifetime of the program for education, Zoom accounts and listing in the provider directory

807 technical assistance encounters provided by WyTN

37 webinars and 1,069 participants

1,494 telehealth providers delivering telehealth via WyTN Zoom accounts in 52 different specialties

 

Totals represent numbers from 2016-17 on.

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