Emergency telehealth use in Montana
Beck, Kristen Staley
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Over 75% of Montana's population resides in rural or frontier areas which often lack access to high quality emergency care services and/or specialty expertise found at larger hospitals. Specifically, rural emergency patients have disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality than their urban counterparts due to increased distance to hospitals, lack of specialty resources, and decreased encounters with such patients. Emergency telehealth has come to the forefront in delivering high quality emergency care for rural patients. Because other rural states have successfully implemented emergency telehealth, it is pertinent to know how Montana is utilizing this technology. The purpose of this project was to document the use of emergency telehealth in Montana and to identify perceived barriers to implementation and sustainability of emergency telehealth. A 26 question survey regarding telehealth use and its associated barriers was emailed to all hospitals within the state. Results indicated that Montana is in line with national use standards as 88% of respondents reported using at least one telehealth service. Emergency telehealth is the second most utilized service after in-house education in Montana's critical access hospitals with a large projected growth in other critical care areas such as stroke, intensive care unit, and burns. Top perceived barriers to implementation and sustainability of telehealth services were lack of specialist availability and provider buy-in. Furthermore, the most concerning regulatory barrier to telehealth use was government reimbursement. Such findings warrant further investigation and state-specific initiatives to promote emergency telehealth use and continued success. Because of the critical benefits of this technology and the high demand for services, it is evident that continued development and access to emergency telehealth services is imperative for rural Montanans.