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12/31/2004 - INHS TeleHealth Expands Broadband Reach

An Intelligent Community has both wired and wireless high speed, broadband connectivity available. In Spokane, no organization uses these resources in a “more intelligent” way than Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS). Northwest TeleHealth, a division of INHS, recently received a three year Federal grant in the amount of $111,313 per year from the Office of Rural Health Policy. This Rural Emergency Medical Service Training and Equipment (REMSTEP) grant is designed to expand access to training for emergency medical service providers (EMS). Thanks to REMSTEP, Northwest TeleHealth will expand their services to Oregon and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

From their headquarters in the Holley Mason Building, INHS operates a private, unified regional network using Internet Protocols (IP). Their Wide Area Network (WAN) in Washington serves rural areas and hospitals from Newport to Aberdeen and from Republic to Goldendale. They use an optical fiber connection where it is available and T-1 lines where necessary. A recent grant has made it possible for them to erect their own satellite dish on the roof of the Holley Mason with state-of-the-art electronics. The satellite system will be used to rebroadcast programs such as CDC educational conferences to rural communities without high speed broadband capabilities.

Northwest TeleHealth’s network offers interactive video conferencing to more than fifty-five hospitals and clinics in Washington State. Through this network INHS offers “EMS Live @ Nite”, a series of EMS educational courses. With their ability to connect to other established networks, INHS offers these courses to hospitals and clinics in Idaho and Montana as well. These classes enhance the skills of EMS providers in rural areas and can be counted toward continuing education credits. Nearly 85% of rural EMS providers are volunteers who contribute their time and expertise after working all day at their regular jobs. These volunteers don't have a lot of additional time to travel for hours to an education site for additional training. With the REMSTEP grant funds, EMS Live @ Nite will be available to over 300 identified EMS agencies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

EMS Live @ Nite classes are taught by medical professionals and originate from INHS Holley Mason headquarters. Thanks to the video conferencing capability and the INHS dedicated network, the classes are interactive and in real time. Participants are given both a pre and post-knowledge test. The questions help the course presenters know at what level the student began, the effectiveness of the presentation, and that the student attended the entire time. This process also satisfies state requirements to allow courses to qualify for continuing medical education certificates.

EMS Live @ Nite is in its second year and covers topics like Emergency Childbirth, Care of the Burn Patient, 12 Lead EKG Interpretations, Pediatric Trauma, and Acute Coronary Syndromes. Over one thousand participants benefited from the program in its first year, and REMSTEP will allow many more to be included in its second year. “Northwest TeleHealth was one of only three chosen to receive the REMSTEP grant,” says Renee Anderson, project leader and grant writer. “People are really grateful for this service. We are providing a service that saves volunteers the cost of travel and time off from their day jobs and enhances the retention of much needed volunteers. A national finding indicates that this medium of delivery allows volunteers to meet state training requirements, without which, many may leave their positions due to their lack of self-confidence in performing their duties.

The TeleHealth Network is being used for many more topics than emergency medicine. For example, rural sufferers of Parkinson’s disease rarely have access to specialty care. Through the TeleHealth network, specialists in various aspects of Parkinson’s disease can literally “see” a rural patient and work with the local physician for the best treatment based on the symptoms. Parkinson’s sufferers, their care givers, and family can also participate in regularly scheduled “Parkinson’s Updates” with the latest treatment available from guest lecturers.

INHS is a non-profit corporation sponsored by Spokane’s hospitals to provide collaborative health care services. INHS companies include St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Community Health Education and Resources (CHER), Children’s Miracle Network, Northwest TeleHealth, Information Resource Management, and Northwest MedStar. For more information, visit www.inhs.org.

Billie Moreland
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