How Clarke County Hospital is expanding its telehealth services into home monitoring COVID-19 patients
On June 10, Clarke County Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital in Osceola, Iowa, was awarded by the Federal Communications Commission, $170,072 as part of the agency’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program. – The program is part of the FCC’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and will distribute $200 million that Congress appropriated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help health care providers provide telehealth services to patients in their homes or mobile locations during the pandemic.
Telehealth isn’t new to CCH. But FCC’s new funding award will allow the hospital to further build on its telehealth strategy for its community.
“We have had telehealth for years - we use it with specialists and office visits,” explained Evans, “But this will allow us to expand to home monitoring.”
CCH will use the awarded funds for tablet computers, network upgrades and remote monitoring equipment to offer home-based access via telehealth for potential COVID-19 patients and to provide telehealth video units in patient and exam rooms to minimize provider-patient contact and preserve stockpiles of personal protective equipment.
As COVID-19 continues to grow as a public health crisis, CCH is expanding telehealth visits from home to the Clarke County Clinic (Clinic) for certain conditions and circumstances during the national public health emergency. Patients who experience COVID-19-related symptoms or other mild conditions such as pink eye, sinus infection, rashes or anxiety can schedule during designated times telehealth visits by calling the Clinic. Additionally, home monitoring of patients with COVID-19 will be able to be monitored from home by Clarke County Hospital’s care coordination team.
“The ability to monitor at home comes at a very important time in the COVID-19 crisis,” explained Brian Evans, Clarke County Hospital’s CEO. “It allows us to track patients who test positive and treat them if the need arises.”
Offering these services via telehealth allows patients and health care workers alike to avoid unnecessary in-person visits. CCH began ramping up its telehealth program in March and will continue offering these services for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure patients get the care they need. They hope to continue and possibly expand these services over time.
While the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program is not a grant program, eligible health care providers who are approved for funding are required to submit invoicing forms and supporting documentation in order to receive reimbursements for eligible expenses and services. Applicants who receive funding are required to comply with all program rules and requirements, including applicable reporting requirements; they may be subject to compliance audits. While there is no deadline to apply, FCC is awarding the limited funding on a rolling basis and will continue to accept and review applications until the pool is exhausted or the current COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
For CCH, the notice of the FCC program came at the perfect time; it already had plans in place to expand telehealth to respond to the needs of its community under the COVID-19 crisis, but not the financial resources to implement their plan. They were able to determine what resources were needed to submit an application to the FCC for support. During the pandemic, CCH actively reviewed all stimulus and grant opportunities to address the crisis in a safe and expedient way.
CCH is also investigating funds from other federal sources, including the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program. This grant program helps rural communities acquire technology and training needed to connect educational and medical professionals with the teachers and medical providers who serve rural residents at the local level.
CCH plans to immediately use its new home monitoring system to track COVID-19 patients who have tested positive and are symptomatic. That way, if the patient’s health deteriorates, CCH will be able to quickly reach him or her. Similarly, CCH can use the equipment to monitor COVID-19 patients who have been discharged to ensure their continued recovery.
“The FCC award is for immediate use, but it will help us in the long term too,” Evans said. “It is a catalyst to develop new and improve existing services and quality. That’s what we’re trying to do – improve the quality of care to the community.”