The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Stephanie Gagne, program manager for telehealth at MaineHealth, about the health system’s participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Telehealth Network Grant Program.

Grantee Profile: MaineHealth (Portland, Maine)

The Delivering Rural Emergency Access to Multispecialty Services (DREAMS) program will expand MaineHealth’s current tele-emergency services to better serve rural emergency departments across Maine and Carroll County, New Hampshire with critical specialty consultation. This grant will enable MaineHealth to support seven regional hospital originating sites with cardiology, dermatology, general surgery, neonatology, and adult and pediatric neurology (telestroke and neurosurgery) services. 

What has been an early win in your telehealth program?  

Up until now, there has been so much commitment and dedication on the part of the consulting providers who participate in telehealth, with a lot of our initiatives being very physician driven. This has been such a great help and looking ahead, we expect that will impact what we hope to accomplish in the future. 

What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar tele-emergency services program? 

One of the things that we have learned, through telehealth expansion and operationalizing new programs is that you really have to dedicate a lot of time upfront to planning and communicating. You have to make sure that you are receiving project approval from all the parties who are interested before you start implementing — so really getting that executive leadership involved and your clinical leadership, and this is at both the consulting and the originating sites. Let everybody know exactly what you intend to do, as it really helps you get your head around to know who is going to do what and when. I would also recommend in addition to planning, dedicating plenty of time to developing a data collection plan early on, so you know what you’re going to measure and why.   

I would highly recommend utilizing the support of your peers, reach out to organizations that are doing the work, share learnings, and share your experience because I think the better that we can perform nationally, the better off our patients will be.  

How do you see participation in the Telehealth Network Grant Program impacting your broader telehealth efforts? 

The grant program is allowing us to have a dedicated staff person for the next four-year period. This is giving us the opportunity to achieve our vision of improving the health of our communities by optimizing telehealth and allowing us to replicate and scale our operations to be successful. 

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

One of the things that MaineHealth needed to do when the COVID pandemic hit, similar to many health care organizations across the country, is that we needed to figure out how to deliver telehealth services to patients in the ambulatory setting, which meant 1,200 providers needed to learn how to use telehealth to deliver care to patients in their home. Very quickly we became experts in the technology and delivery of home-based telehealth and it’s been extremely successful. The majority of patients are really satisfied with this new process, so we will emerge stronger from the pandemic by using telehealth and optimizing our workflows both in the ambulatory setting and in the acute care hospital setting. 

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