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How telemedicine is changing rural hospitals in Georgia

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Through the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has proven to be the go-to treatment for many patients.

It’s actually been the one thing keeping many of our rural hospitals open.

Who knew a screen could be the lifeline for rural hospitals.

“I believe this could save a lot of these rural hospitals if we are able to keep more patients in those facilities,” AU Health’s Dr. Phillip Coule said.

Coule says that’s the key. They can use a team approach and keep patients in their rural hospital without a transfer.

“Patients don’t necessarily want to leave their communities,” AU Health telemedicine director Dr. Matt Lyon said. “That’s where their family is. That’s where their resources are.”

For rural hospitals, that’s where their money comes from.

Lyon hears the challenges daily.

“Rural hospitals have had to take care of patients they aren’t necessarily comfortable with,” Lyon said.

“In our community, I’m the only board-certified pediatrician between, I think, Athens and Augusta,” Dr. Lester Johnston with Wills Memorial Hospital said.

Johnston says in Washington, Georgia, outside expertise is a win-win.

“We are able to bill for a higher level of care here,” Johnson said. “It helps decrease the burden off of everybody.”

Heidi Coffee with Washington County Regional says COVID gives them new opportunities.

“We give remdesivir, which is one of the drugs that Augusta was using,” Coffee said. “So you could get the same treatment here.”

It’s all about saving money for the patient and opening a door for better care.

“It allows us to better serve our community,” Johnston said. “It allows to provide better quality of care.”

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