Deploying Telehealth to Combat COVID-19 at the Front Lines of Rural Health Care

Compiled image of three faces - Video chat style
Photo credit: Riverwood Healthcare Center

Telehealth visits have skyrocketed during the pandemic as hospitals and providers modify visiting policies and treatment options to ensure a safe environment for all. For rural hospitals, virtual health visits are improving access to quality care and transforming how they deliver health care now and into the future.

Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin, Minnesota, quickly deployed Zoom for business for virtual health visits in the early weeks of the pandemic. An AHA Members in Action case study describes lessons learned by Riverwood leaders and practitioners as the number of patients using telehealth increased substantially. Recommendations include:

  • using project management skills to ensure a strategic, streamlined process;
  • planning structured, daily huddles so providers are prepared;
  • training clinicians in advance;
  • recruiting and mobilizing a physician champion; and
  • focusing on partnerships to share best practices and resources.

Telehealth visits have been embraced by patients and their families in Aitkin County and surrounding communities, and the Riverwood website highlights patients’ comments and success stories. These patients appreciate the convenience of telehealth — scheduling an appointment during a lunch break or avoiding long travel times — and know that connecting with a clinician while staying in their own home limits their exposure to infectious diseases, especially during flu season.