Solutions for Rural Emergency Departments in COVID-19 Era

June 1, 2020

Early in the coronavirus crisis, Concord Medical Group knew it had to get creative in how it met the needs of rural emergency departments. As a health system partner specializing in provider staffing, the company manages dozens of emergency departments across the rural South—the same hospitals now facing perhaps the biggest risks, stresses, and shortages. 

“These smaller hospitals deal with a lot of unique challenges, such as financial shortcomings and limited resources,” explained Tyler Sutphen, Director of Business Development for Concord Medical Group. “We pride ourselves on being able to tailor the service we provide to each hospital, making it as custom as possible and rolling with any changes.”

COVID-19 triggered major changes in each and every hospital Concord partners with. Suddenly, even routine auscultations posed a danger to both clinicians and patients in need of care. As seasoned problem solvers, Concord sprang into action, researching telehealth options and quickly adopting Eko. 

“The Eko CORE allows us to provide a service where patients don’t need to put themselves or others at unnecessary risk,” Sutphen said. “We’re really happy with how it’s been working. 

The process is simple and the set-up is minimal. Concord downloads the Eko app on a tablet and pairs the app with a CORE Digital Stethoscope. The two devices are then carefully boxed up and shipped out. The latest hospital to start using the solution is Anson General Hospital in Texas. The account was fast-tracked because of COVID-19. 

“They opened the box while I was on the phone with them. I had the Eko Telemedicine link pulled up in the browser. Sitting in Nashville, Tennessee 800 miles away, I immediately got the signal from the Eko stethoscope as soon as they turned it on,” said Sutphen. 

Protecting the ER’s Most Valuable Asset: Staff

At Anson General, the CORE allows the hospitalist a way to round on his patients, even if he is in a different town. An on-site technician at the hospital auscultates in person while a consulting clinician listens remotely. The remote clinician can also amplify heart and lung sounds, record, save, and even upload data to electronic medical records. 

At a hospital in Andrews, Texas, the CORE is an essential tool in minimizing exposure to both patients and clinicians. 

“There is a physician in the ER who is the go-to guy. He works more often than anyone else. The community really loves him,” said Sutphen. “With the CORE, patients can still come in, but they don’t even need to leave their car. The nurse that’s on-site can screen them outside, under a tent. As the nurse is doing the visit, it’s live-streamed to the physician wherever he is. Sometimes he’s in the hospital.  Sometimes he’s at his house.”

Clinician auscultates with the Eko CORE at Permian Regional Medical Center in Andrews Texas.
Clinician auscultates with the Eko CORE at Permian Regional Medical Center in Andrews Texas.


Telemedicine is Here to Stay

Eko’s simple model of telehealth isn’t just Concord’s solution for today, but a tool they expect to rely on in the post-coronavirus world. 

“As we’re implementing this, we’re really taking a long-term view because the things that we learn from this situation are likely going to be long-lasting. This crisis, this disruption, is going to change things going forward, pandemic or not,” said Sutphen. 

Across the country, clinicians have been turning to telehealth to screen patients, conduct routine follow-ups, and monitor those who need special attention. With each week, more and more patients and clinicians are testing out telemedicine for the first time, and seeing that it works.

“Telemedicine is so much more prevalent now because you have so many people staying at home, doing their part to flatten the curve. After the dust settles with this pandemic and things go back to the new and different ‘normal,’ the patients that are discovering that this is actually a viable technology, those patients are going to want to use that going forward.”

A big threat to the system now, according to Sutphen, is fear. Hospitals big and small have seen drastic drops in patient volume. Even as shelter-in-place restrictions ease, health leaders continue to sound warnings about a looming surge. However, healthcare facilities have worked tirelessly to ensure that exposure is minimal. 

“It’s a public safety issue,” said Sutphen. “People aren’t going to the hospital when they need to because of fear of contracting coronavirus. Hospitals are one of the safest places they can go, just from all the regulations, the protective gear, and the separation of anyone exhibiting COVID symptoms.”

If hospitals are forced to close because of the financial stress, when patients do return, their options will be limited, and they will likely have to travel farther for care. That’s why Concord is working to get the word out about telehealth options. It’s out-of-the-box thinking like this that makes Eko and Concord Medical Group ideal partners in health. 

Concord is a company committed to improving the many inequalities of rural health care, and Eko technology is helping them bridge the gap.

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