Weighing Telehealth's Pros and Cons

Lena J. Weiner, for HealthLeaders Media , August 4, 2014

Remote teams can cut hospital costs and help fill staffing gaps, but HIT and regulatory requirements can be daunting, especially for small, remote hospitals.


Bryan Coffey
CEO of Hamilton County Hospital

A human-size robot roams the halls of Hamilton County Hospital. Through cameras and a tablet mounted at eye level, doctors working as far away as California, New York, or Massachusetts view and treat patients in this rural Kansas hospital remotely.

Hamilton County Hospital is a 25-bed critical access care hospital in Syracuse, a small town of just over 1,800 people on the southwestern Kansas frontier. "The nearest Walmart is 55 miles away," says Bryan Coffey, the hospital's CEO. While it's typically difficult to recruit staff to work in such remote care settings, Coffey has found a technology-based strategy for both keeping the hospital fully staffed and cutting costs.

"We're the perfect model for telehealth and remote teams," says Coffey.

"I have a passion for two things: rural healthcare and telemedicine," he continues. Delivery of care in Coffey's part of Kansas is not always easy. "This is a region where people have to drive eight hours one way to see a pediatric specialist." Recognizing that his patients would be better served by access to more specialists than Hamilton County could realistically attract or support, Coffey found a that telemedicine is the right answer to his hospital's staffing challenges.

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