For McCall-area residents, traveling to and from Boise for doctors’ appointments is challenging, especially during the winter.
But weather is just one of the factors that can complicate care. Idaho’s well-documented physician shortage, complex treatment programs for some patients and a host of other variables can make what might be a simple process in other settings more challenging in this part of the country.
Enter telehealth, and St. Luke’s new service for nephrology and urology care in McCall. The best part? Patients can attend routine follow-up appointments without having to travel to Boise for medical visits that typically last less than 20 minutes.
Telehealth at St. Luke’s is steadily expanding from origins in teleICU services focused on adult critical care across St. Luke’s service area and a pilot teleneurology clinic in the Wood River area, and is now beginning to incorporate specialty clinic visits. If these services prove to be successful at improving patient outcomes while reducing the cost of care, other specialties may be added. Long-term goals include adding the capacity to monitor patients’ care at home.
Nephrologist Dr. Liang Wu began his new telehealth clinic last month. He stayed in Boise and his patients checked in at St. Luke’s Clinic – Payette Lakes Medical in McCall.
Long-time McCall resident Dorothy Mott was St. Luke’s first nephrology telehealth visit. She met Dr. Wu via a live two-way audio video stream for an interactive office visit.
“I think it’s a very fine service,” Mott said. “I was very comfortable and could see and hear Dr. Wu just fine.”
Dr. Wu understands how important it is to see patients close to home, and has been traveling to McCall and Baker City, Oregon, every month for the past two years, serving patients with chronic kidney issues.
But as is true of many St. Luke’s specialists, he’s spending lots of time on the road – time that might be better spent with patients. Each time Treasure Valley-based specialists hold a clinic in McCall, they spend up to five hours on the road, taking away valuable patient care time.
Dr. Brian Auge of St. Luke’s Clinic – Urology is also changing how he delivers care in McCall. Dr. Auge will continue to travel to McCall once a month for new patient visits and to perform necessary urological procedures. Follow-up visits will be held via telehealth two times a month with Certified Physician Assistant Derrick Rowe.
The telehealth programs are the logical extension of St. Luke’s mission to improve the health of people in our region, the program’s director said.
“St. Luke’s is committed to providing patients with convenient access to medical professionals and services,” said Krista Stadler, St. Luke’s Health System senior director of telehealth services. “This technology improves access to specialists and ensures all clinics have the resources they need without increasing costs.”
The new telehealth service will be evaluated to ensure patient and provider satisfaction.
“If the results are positive, more specialty services that aren’t currently offered may be added in McCall,” said Don McKenzie, St. Luke’s Clinic practice manager.
“Implementing telehealth is the next step in building on our team-based model of care and meets one of our objectives to become a designated patient-centered medical home,” he said.This team-based model of care began to take shape in 2014, when St. Luke’s McCall first employed a patient access navigator to help connect patients with resources and financial aid. Nurse care coordinators soon followed to help organize patients’ care in what is often a complicated process. In 2015, behavioral health professionals joined the team to screen for and address mental health issues, and in 2016, a clinical pharmacist was added to the team.
Laura Crawford works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.