Technology is changing healthcare for rural America

JACKMAN, Maine – At first glance, the small town of Jackman, Maine may not seem like the home of groundbreaking medical innovations. But this city that straddles the Canadian border is home to a groundbreaking new program that changes the way rural health care is delivered.

“There is no dentist in town. There are just a lot of services you can’t find here,” said paramedic Ed Moreshead, recently driving his Ford pickup truck through the city center.

Ed Moreshead is a North East Mobile Health Services paramedic based in Jackman, Maine, a small town in the northern part of this state that is home to approximately 700 people. But paramedics like Moreshead are responsible for covering an area roughly the state of Rhode Island.

Like rural communities across the country, getting patients to the emergency room in this area is a problematic, often time-consuming task. The nearest emergency room is around 70 miles away, a journey that can sometimes take around two hours. Although Jackman has a community health center, the facility cannot perform many emergency procedures that most larger hospitals can.

Then, in an effort to save time and lives, the emergency room is brought to Jackman in a new and innovative way, leveraging the technology and expertise of the paramedics.

“If I can stop you from driving an hour and a half back, I just saved you the whole day,” Moreshead said.

The idea is an integrated paramedic program of critical access. Paramedics here are receiving more ICU training. While at the same time, that pickup truck that Moreshead relies on is equipped with tools like satellite internet and a satellite phone. First responders also have heart rate monitors that can wirelessly send data to a doctor anywhere.

The concept is simple. Using the technology, paramedics can instantly connect to a doctor no matter where they get a call. From points to ultrasound, paramedics in this region are bridging the rural health gap by instantly connecting via video chat to a doctor who may be hours away.

After years of planning, the program has recently been rolled out in Jackman and surrounding areas. And the results were far better than the doctors initially hoped for.

Dr Jonathan Busko helped get the program off the ground. And he will regularly answer video calls from field paramedics by answering calls from emergency services. Using a cell phone and an iPad, Dr. Busko treated everything from ear infections to lacerations at the hospital he works at in Bangor, Maine.

About 120 miles away.

“We have had to adapt to what the community needs, ultimately it is people who receive their care here without traveling for an hour and a half to the nearest hospital,” he said.

In many cases, this type of critical access assistance is saving residents of this small town a three-hour round trip to the nearest emergency room.

“This really makes it much more possible for so many people to live in these communities,” added Dr Busko.

Most paramedics live two hours away, so an old nursing home has been converted into apartments where workers can sleep during their shifts. The whole concept also helped with staffing issues. Give paramedics a chance for professional development they may not have had in the past.

“It’s another step beyond normal paramedic that I’ve been taking for many years. It allows me to work with the doctor and add skills that I wouldn’t normally do,” said paramedic Ed Moreshead.

The entire program costs Jackman and surrounding communities approximately $ 450,000 annually to implement. Some of the money will come from a tax increase, which is no small feat in a city where the median income is only $ 29,000.

But out here it means access to a kind of health care that has never been possible before.

“We can take care outside the clinic, now we can go to people’s homes and treat them where they live.”

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