Clemson Rural Health pioneers telehealth and RPM in rural South Carolina, battling healthcare barriers. Collaborating with partners like Palmetto Cares Connections, they employ technology to extend vital healthcare services to underserved populations. Leveraging mobile units and hub clinics, they offer comprehensive care for chronic diseases, prenatal support, and more. Despite challenges like reimbursement issues and patient education, their dedication remains unwavering. With a focus on provider shortage areas, their virtual care initiatives showcase significant improvements in managing chronic illnesses and reducing infant mortality, highlighting the transformative impact of technology in enhancing rural healthcare access.
Clemson Rural Health, a pioneering healthcare organization, is revolutionizing healthcare access in rural South Carolina by leveraging cutting-edge telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) technologies. Amid significant challenges such as provider shortages and limited access to healthcare services, particularly among rural Americans, Clemson Rural Health has become a beacon of hope by embracing virtual care solutions.
Virtual Healthcare Revolution: Bridging Gaps in Rural South Carolina
Rural populations across America face numerous healthcare obstacles, from chronic conditions and unintentional injuries to grappling with the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, they encounter difficulty accessing essential healthcare services. However, the rise of virtual care has emerged as a vital tool in bridging this gap, though the implementation of such programs comes with its own set of challenges.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clemson Rural Health swiftly adopted virtual care solutions. As part of Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, the organization operates physical locations in South Carolina alongside a fleet of mobile health units.
Since the 1990s, the mobile units have provided services to migrant seasonal farm workers and conducted preventive cancer screenings for the uninsured or underinsured. To further extend their reach, the organization established primary care hub clinics in collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in Walhalla (2018) and Orangeburg (2022), following a successful model operating in Oconee County.
Explaining the hub-and-spoke model, Caitlin Moore, associate director of clinical operations at Clemson Rural Health, highlighted their approach in delivering services to surrounding counties. The clinics offer comprehensive primary care, chronic disease management, treatment for opioid use disorder, and screenings for conditions like hepatitis C and HIV.
The organization’s strategy involves collaboration with over 220 partners statewide, including Palmetto Cares Connections, a non-profit focused on providing technology and telehealth solutions in rural and underserved areas of South Carolina. Together, they’re implementing telehealth equipment in community-based settings to enhance accessibility to healthcare.
Clemson Rural Health utilizes various technology platforms like Doximity and Carium, tailoring their use based on specific projects and patient needs. For instance, Carium supports their RPM program and nutrition services aimed at managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease, and reducing infant mortality.
Their RPM initiative equips patients with cellular-enabled tablets and Bluetooth-integrated devices like blood pressure and glucose monitors. By providing pre-configured tablets, the healthcare team minimizes patient setup issues, allowing them to focus on delivering clinical services.
A primary goal of expanding telehealth and RPM services in rural South Carolina is to address the severe shortage of healthcare providers. With 41 out of 46 counties designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), the dearth of healthcare professionals remains a significant challenge in these regions. The virtual care technology serves as a bridge between patients and providers, enabling continuous monitoring of patient health metrics between in-person visits.
Clemson Rural Health has witnessed notable improvements in managing diabetes, hypertension, and infant mortality through the implementation of virtual care. By remotely assisting high-risk pregnant women, the technology has contributed to preventing pre-term births, significantly impacting both the mothers’ well-being and the babies’ health.
However, implementing virtual care technology came with its own set of hurdles. Initially burdening provider teams with patient education and setup tasks prompted the hiring of a care coordinator dedicated to assisting patients with technology use. Overcoming reimbursement challenges from health plans that inadequately compensate for RPM remains a looming concern.
Nonetheless, Clemson Rural Health remains committed to expanding their virtual care initiatives. Collaborating with Palmetto Cares Connections, they’re piloting telehealth carts in community spaces like churches and senior centers in the Orangeburg area. These carts equipped with internet access and medical devices enable patients to connect with remote clinicians, aided by on-site tele-presenters to collect vital signs.
In advocating for the adoption of virtual care in rural settings, Caitlin Moore emphasizes the importance of embracing this technology without fear. Encouraging healthcare providers to adapt to the digital landscape, she underscores the positive impact witnessed among rural patients who actively engage with and benefit from virtual care solutions.
As virtual care technology continues to evolve, Clemson Rural Health stands as a testament to its transformative potential in overcoming healthcare barriers in rural communities, ultimately paving the way for enhanced healthcare access and improved patient outcomes.
Clemson Rural Health’s journey in implementing virtual care technology signifies a transformative shift in rural healthcare accessibility. Despite initial hurdles and ongoing challenges in reimbursement, their dedication to leveraging telehealth and RPM stands resolute. Witnessing tangible improvements in managing chronic diseases and enhancing prenatal care reflects the immense potential of virtual care. As they continue to innovate and expand their initiatives, the organization emphasizes the importance of embracing technology in rural settings. The success stories of improved patient outcomes underscore the significant role that virtual care plays in revolutionizing healthcare access, promising a brighter future for rural communities in South Carolina.