Bringing High-Tech Virtual Health Care To Rural America

By PR Newswire   

For the fourth time, the USDA has awarded Mercy a substantial grant that will provide greater access to health care in some of Mercy’s most rural communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems from 2016 to 2019 by IBM Watson Health, serves millions annually. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 45,000 co-workers and 2,400 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy’s IT division, Mercy Technology Services, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients from coast to coast. 

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Thanks to the US$496,349 USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants, Mercy Virtual will implement a project that includes hospitalists, emergency care, stroke and neurology services. Video equipment will benefit more than 210,000 residents and will be placed in nine communities, including:

Mercy Hospital Berryville (Arkansas)

Mercy Hospital Paris (Arkansas)

Mercy Hospital Waldron (Arkansas)

Mercy Hospital Columbus (Kansas)

Mercy Hospital Aurora (Missouri)

Mercy Hospital Cassville (Missouri)

Mercy St. Francis Mountain View (Missouri)

Mercy Hospital Healdton (Oklahoma)

Mercy Hospital Kingfisher (Oklahoma)

“Almost half of the communities Mercy serves are in some of the most remote rural areas,” said vice president of clinical operations for Mercy Virtual, Mark Saxon. “These residents don’t have access to the level of care found in larger cities, and in some of these communities, they have no medical care. This grant will allow us to install video equipment that will provide access to hundreds of Mercy medical specialists and even greater access to primary care.”

The grant is part of US$42.5 million the USDA is investing in 133 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and two U.S. territories. USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care, and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

“If you live in small community and you have a stroke, you sometimes have to travel 50 to 100 miles one way to the nearest urban area to see physicians highly trained in stroke care,” said Mercy Virtual’s senior vice president of population health, Dr. Gavin Helton. “Specialized physicians live and practice in highly populated areas. Many rural communities don’t have the luxury or the resources to provide this level of care. But with the use of high-tech, powerful cameras providing live video, someone in Healdton, Oklahoma, can be virtually seen by a Mercy doctor hundreds of miles away.”

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