KRMC awarded federal grant to support telemedicine in rural Montana
KRMC recently learned it was awarded a $373,658 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program to provide reliable telecommunications connectivity for four remote end-user sites: Pondera Medical Center (Conrad, MT), Northern Rockies Medical Center (Cut Bank, MT), Marias Medical Center (Shelby, MT), and Eureka Health (Eureka, MT). This project is one of only two in Montana to receive funding.
Telemedicine is the future of health care for rural areas for many reasons:
- It allows patients in rural communities to be remotely diagnosed and treated by physicians using telecommunications technology.
- It saves the costs of travel for patients and families who have had to leave the area in the past to get specialty services.
- It provides security for physicians and nurses in rural locations, knowing that a local network of health care providers is available around the clock to contact for advice and support when needed, especially in emergency situations.
- It enables distance learning and education programs for physicians, practitioners, nurses and patients.
Two previous initiatives helped pave the way for telemedicine in Northwest Montana. The Federal Communications Commission awarded $13.6 million to fund the Health Information Exchange of Montana, which established an advanced fiber-optic network between KRMC and remote sites. The USDA Tele-Stroke grant funded robotic equipment that allows Kalispell neurologists to evaluate stroke patients in real time in rural communities.
Unfortunately, aged telecommunications networks at the end-user facilities do not have sufficient internal capacity for the telemedicine systems to function consistently and reliably. It’s like driving a high-tech electric car on a freshly paved highway, with no place to plug it in when you get to your destination. Furthermore, upgrading the infrastructure is expensive.
The grant funds, combined with a cash match from KRMC and the four rural partners, will support telecommunications network equipment inside these rural facilities, including switches, cabling, Wi-Fi controllers and access points, to connect their telemedicine equipment to KRMC doctors, nurses, and other specialists.
The infrastructure upgrades will begin immediately and be completely implemented over a three-year timeframe. When fully functional, this system will open the door to many opportunities to enhance health care in rural Montana.
For more information, contact Pat Wilson, Executive Director of Education Services, at (406) 756-4744.