As an academic medical center, MUSC’s mission is to improve the health of all South Carolinians, including those in the poorest and most rural and underserved regions of the state. Telehealth, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via telecommunications technology, offers a tool uniquely suited to realizing that mission.
Residents of rural communities do not have easy access to specialty care. Specialists tend to cluster in urban areas, and efforts to encourage recruitment of these clinicians to remote areas have not been widely successful. Severe national shortages of subspecialists in certain fields, such as maternal fetal medicine, stroke neurology, and pediatric intensive care, translate to lack of access to subspecialty care even in more urban areas of South Carolina.
MUSC Telehealth offers an innovative solution to providing better access to specialists by bringing specialty care to the patient rather than asking the patient to come to the care. Although telehealth does not replace an in-person visit, it can provide a convenient option for screening patients and providing follow-up care. In doing so, it removes a whole host of barriers to care faced by rural residents, including lost time from work, transportation needs and childcare costs.
Telehealth allows for more coordinated and patient-centered health care delivery. It offers access to specialty care while supporting a patient-centered medical home; specialty consults typically occur in the office of a patient’s primary care provider (who can receive payment for the consult) or at a local hospital.
The technology that makes all of this possible is much simpler and easier to use than earlier iterations and can quickly be mastered by local providers and their staff. The technology is currently being used in private practices, schools, community health centers and hospitals across the state. Partnerships with hospital emergency departments have resulted in the ability to provide time-sensitive consults for stroke patients experiencing life-threatening medical events—regardless of their proximity to a regional stroke center. At the same time, school-based clinics have served K-12 students in the management of conditions such as asthma and ear infections as part of their academic day.
Telehealth partnerships between MUSC and local providers offer South Carolinians the medical care they deserve–convenient care delivered in a familiar environment involving a trusted primary care provider combined with access to nationally recognized specialists at the state’s premier academic medical center.