Telehealth Network Grant Program – Gundersen Health System

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Jessica Easterday, R.N., clinical manager for virtual care at Gundersen Health System (Wisconsin), about how this grant has enabled expansion of the health system’s telehealth offerings to its Critical Access Hospitals.

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

We have been able to expand our telehealth offerings to include all six of our Critical Access Hospitals having telehospitalist coverage. The hospitalists are at our hub based in La Crosse, and using the spoke model we cover gaps in schedules or even nocturnists duties for our Critical Access Hospitals. This has allowed us to keep our patients close to home, which is one of our missions. Otherwise, some of our patients would need to travel several hours to get admitted to another hospital, if they could not have that service locally. We also expanded our outpatient services — even into nursing homes — so this grant has been really very helpful.

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

We partnered with a vendor for additional stroke neurology coverage, which is a challenge in terms of obtaining those extra contracts. As an organization we have had many learnings about revenue cycle and billing and various rules regarding CMS billing. We have been spending quite a bit of time on being able to file that billing appropriately. But, you do not do telehealth alone. It is best to develop those relationships with those subject matter experts in your organization and really include them early in any program development. The more they know, the better able they are to serve you later, and you do not want to end up in a situation where you get too far down the road and then bring them on. By that point, you may have made mistakes that could have been easily solved early.

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?

This grant hit at an opportune time for us to expand programs that we were on our roadmap but that we just did not have the funding for. This really gave us that push and ability to move these things forward. These programs align with our strategic missions and our strategic goals; so, it was just a perfect fit into the overall expansion of our telehealth and virtual care offerings.

What’s next on the horizon for your grant-funded program?

Part of our sustainability plan is setting this up to be part of our normal business of how we take care of people. One of our main focuses is having telehealth and virtual care be very transparently offered to patients at the time of scheduling, whether they are scheduling themselves online, they call us to schedule an appointment, or they are in the hospital. It is just part of what we do.

What is next is going to be further expansion of telehealth into the pre-hospital space. We dipped our toes into ambulance telemedicine and our emergency medical services folks, our dispatch center, and the medical director of our ambulance service have all embraced it. We are now looking at how can we utilize that team in the initial calls from patients when they call 9-1-1. Can we get them connected a doctor right away through an audio-video connection?

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