Emory Rural Tele-EMS Network

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Michael Carr, M.D., project director for the Emory Rural Tele-EMS Network, about expansion of the network’s partnerships and ambitions. 


To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your telehealth program?  

One of the biggest wins that we had was learning how to get a patient registered appropriately as an acute unscheduled visit. One of the conversations that kicked off the solution was with the chief medical officer of the hospital suggesting we use a retroactive registration process after seeing the patients. We finally came up with a solution to get people registered and actually started seeing patients. Then, the health system changed its electronic medical record systems. So, our initial big win is now obsolete. We now have a new way of doing it. That is something important to realize, though — things are constantly evolving.


What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar telehealth program?  

The biggest tip that I have for launching a telemedicine program is that failure and challenges are essential to growth. You may feel defeated on a day-to-day basis or that your initial vision of your project is never going to be realized. But with each challenge and failure, you can get creative and invent another way. No is never an answer. Roadblocks are going to happen, so find another way. 

Also, focus on the changes that actually happened — the impact on the individual patient but also systemwide. Sharing progress and bragging about your program is what makes others interested. I am being contacted more and more asking to collaborate with people wanting to know how to get something started. This sharing is mutually beneficial and part of pioneering a new process. 


How do you see participation in the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth’s Telehealth Network Grant Program impacting your broader telehealth or health improvement efforts? 

The Emory Rural Tele-EMS Network started primarily as a telemedicine service for rural counties with a focus on patients with critical, time-sensitive conditions and those patients on the way to the hospital that would benefit from earlier intervention by an emergency physician facilitating their arrival. That is still our why, but we developed partnerships and integrated with other systems to make ourself more sustainable and we now have a much broader goal throughout the state.   

We started working with the state Office of Rural Health and the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop a partnership to focus on identifying acute stroke patients earlier so that we can activate resources down the line and speed up the process, which ultimately will improve the outcome in those patients. Our second big, unexpected partnership is with the Southern Regional Disaster Response System, which is funded by the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, to develop a network to support the state in the setting of a disaster — whether it is a natural disaster, or a chemical, biological, radiation, or nuclear event. All disasters happen locally, but now we have a telemedicine network that allows specialists and emergency coordinators to be available virtually to help support that disaster in a local setting.  


What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

We have seen a lot of structural changes within our government and within hospital systems that allow for more regular use of telehealth. That restructuring of the government has acknowledged a commitment to telehealth moving forward. Restructuring happened within my own institution. We have a department of telemedicine and we have an official subsection that focuses entirely on telehealth and delivery of telehealth and emergency services. When the virtual component became a necessity to preserve personal protective equipment and to reduce the number of providers that are exposed to patients, people realized how essential virtual care can be in the setting of the emergency department. So that realization triggered further realizations, like for long-distance use, that we can use in other settings.

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