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Hospital among five to benefit from telemedicine arrangement

Robert Smith

TeleHealth Solution, a company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week announced it would begin offering services to several rural and small-town hospitals in Oklahoma through a partnership with Oklahoma State University. Pawhuska Hospital is one of five hospitals affiliated with Cohesive Healthcare, based in Shawnee, that began implementing TeleHealth’s service program this month.

Rhett Stover, CEO of OSU Medicine, said the Oklahoma State Department of Health has used federal funds available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, to begin to put in place a statewide telemedicine network. The decision was a result of concern that as COVID-19 spreads in rural parts of the state, small hospitals may be challenged when it comes to assembling sufficient clinical expertise to meet the needs of patients, Stover said.

OSU surfaced as the preferred option to participate in the telemedicine partnership. Among Oklahoma hospitals, some expressed more initial interest in the partnership than others, he said. The five hospitals listed as having implemented the program this month are all Cohesive Healthcare partner hospitals. In addition to Pawhuska Hospital, Carnegie Tri-County Municipal Hospital, Mangum Regional Medical Center, Prague Community Hospital, and Seiling Municipal Hospital are listed as participating.

Stover said the work of helping the hospitals that are implementing the TeleHealth Solution program has been taking place on an expedited basis, taking into account the hospitals’ assessments of community needs.

“It has been about OSU saying, ‘We have a passion for rural health,’” Stover told the Journal-Capital. He added that OSU Medicine is seeking to act as an “unbiased and altruistic partner,” deferring to local hospital management to communicate what is needed.

Stover noted there has not been a high incidence of COVID-19 in Osage County to date, but the resources of TeleHealth Solution are intended to help address non-COVID diagnoses, as well.

“The key to the service is to make sure that clinical expertise is made available quickly,” he said.

“Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, many rural hospitals in Oklahoma were already under serious financial strain, dealing with a very fragile financial outlook,” Stover said in a news release about the partnership. “Through the availability of COVID-19 stimulus funding, many rural facilities have benefited from the receipt of additional resources, better positioning each to respond to the increased pressures caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

Dr. Waseem Ghannam, CEO and co-founder of TeleHealth Solution, told the Journal-Capital that the intent is to bring together the right staff and the right equipment without creating any additional institutional strain for small hospitals that were already experiencing financial and other strains.

“TeleHealth Solution’s physician owners are rural health care experts and understand that Critical Access Hospitals face unique challenges,” Dr. Ghannam said in a news release. “Our technology and staff training allow rural hospitals to access a virtual TeleHealth Solution hospitalist whenever needed. It also allows critical access hospitals to keep patients in-house rather than transferring them.”

Osage County’s number of positive tests for COVID-19 doubled between June 29 and July 27, jumping from 160 to 325, according to state health department situation reports. The number of deaths overall in the county — just 10 — remains low and the majority of those were linked to a nursing home outbreak.

Pawhuska Hospital is the second Osage County hospital to announce the formation of a partnership link to OSU that includes telemedicine services. Fairfax Community Hospital, managed by First Physicians Capital Group of Oklahoma City, on April 7 announced the formation of a partnership with OSU Medicine to provide telehealth services.