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June 22, 2020
This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.
Long before COVID-19, Avera eCARE® was a national leader in virtual care, with an expansion into 450 facilities in 32 states.
The telemedicine service based in Sioux Falls has impacted millions of lives over the past 25 years, connecting patients and specialized medical teams through interactive video connections.
Virtual visits became a national buzzword during COVID-19 as clinics began closing down to protect patients and employees while saving valuable personal protective equipment.
“A lot of health care providers started doing virtual visits, but we’re using it in places like the emergency room, long-term care centers and at the hospital bedside in a way that’s truly innovative,” said Lisa Lindgren, vice president for clinical operations at Avera eCARE.
Avera eCARE became a center of innovation as the first cases were announced in South Dakota. Within those first couple of days, Avera’s COVID-19 hotline was organized at Avera eCARE’s hub in northeastern Sioux Falls.
The hotline gave patients direct instructions as to what to do if they were experiencing symptoms, while preventing the hazards of patients showing up in person. To date, this hotline has taken 17,000 calls.
The hotline led to enhanced virtual visits throughout Avera as clinics began closing or limiting in-person appointments.
“Our own Avera providers wanted to keep in close contact with their patients that they could not see in the clinic, and so we launched virtual visits through our own electronic medical record platform as well as the existing AveraNow platform,” Lindgren said.
Avera quickly went from doing fewer than 50 virtual visits a day to up to 1,000 a day.
“Providers who previously had not included virtual visits in their practice are thinking outside the box. Patients absolutely love it. They can see a provider over the camera in so many cases, and it saves them from having to drive,” Lindgren said.
Dr. Christine Pocha, an Avera Medical Group transplant hepatologist, tells of a patient and his wife whom she had cared for in the past.
“They were so incredibly happy to ‘see’ me. It felt truly emotional to me how much they missed me as their provider and were willing to engage in this unfamiliar and new setting of a virtual visit. Keeping the connection to the patients is as important as providing exceptional quality of care for them.”
The “virtual care” line of thinking led to other innovations by Avera eCARE, including the placement of 1,000 iPads in Avera hospital rooms, emergency departments and long-term care centers to allow specialists to round virtually.
“We saved hundreds of staff from having to go directly into a patient room where there could be risk of exposure and saved all that donning and doffing of PPE,” Lindgren said.
Avera eCARE had already offered its senior care services in long-term care and assisted living centers across the nation since 2012. Senior living centers can contract with Avera eCARE to allow a face-to-face provider visit in the resident’s room, rather than an expensive and uncomfortable transfer to a hospital or clinic. In 90 percent of cases, Avera eCARE senior care urgent care services allows treatment in place.
The high risk of having visiting physicians come into the long-term care center made telemedicine a “natural fit,” Lindgren said.
During COVID-19, Avera eCARE has grown exponentially in key areas, including senior care, hospitalist and emergency.
Lindgren believes that eCARE’s early involvement in Avera’s COVID-19 response led to safer and more efficient handling of the pandemic, plus a lower rate of virus transmission, because fewer people were coming to care locations in person.
“Seeing how we can solve problems with a camera and a hub-and-spoke model is something that comes naturally to us,” Lindgren said.
Long before COVID-19 ushered in tons of virtual visits, Avera was a leader in virtual health — and that positioned eCARE for an explosion of growth.