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Technology is changing healthcare for rural America

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Posted at 12:22 PM, Jun 16, 2022

JACKMAN, Maine — At first glance, the tiny town of Jackman, Maine, might not look the place home to groundbreaking medical innovation. But this town that straddles the Canadian border is home to a revolutionary new program changing how rural health care is delivered.

"There's no dentist in town. There are just a lot of services you can't find here," paramedic Ed Moreshead said, driving his Ford pickup truck through the center of town recently.

Ed Moreshead is a North East Mobile Health Services paramedic stationed in Jackman, Maine, a small town in the northern part of this state home to about 700 people. But paramedics like Moreshead are responsible for covering an area that’s approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Like rural communities across the country, getting patients to an emergency room in this area is a problematic, often time-consuming task. The closest ER is about 70 miles away, a trip that can sometimes take close to two hours. While Jackman does have a community health center, the facility can’t perform many emergency procedures most larger hospitals can.

So, in an effort to save time and lives, the emergency room is being brought to Jackman in an innovative new way, harnessing technology and the expertise of paramedics.

"If I can stop you from driving an hour and a half back, I’ve just saved your entire day," Moreshead said.

The idea is a Critical Access Integrated Paramedic program. Paramedics here are receiving more training in critical care. While at the same time, that pickup truck Moreshead relies on is being outfitted with tools like satellite internet and a satellite phone. First responders even have heart rate monitors that can send data wirelessly to a doctor anywhere.

The concept is simple. Using technology, paramedics can instantly connect to a doctor no matter where they take a call. From stitches to ultrasounds, paramedics in this region are bridging the rural healthcare gap by instantly connecting via video chat to a doctor who may be hours away.

After years of planning the program was recently rolled out across Jackman and surrounding areas. And the results have been far better than what doctors initially had hoped.

Doctor Jonathan Busko has helped get the program off the ground. And will routinely answer video calls from paramedics in the field responding to 911 calls. Using a cell phone and an iPad Dr. Busko has treated everything from ear infections to lacerations at the hospital he works at in Bangor, Maine.

Some 120 miles away.

"We’ve had to adapt to what are the needs of the community, ultimately this is about people getting their care here without traveling an hour and a half to the nearest hospital," he said.

In many instances, this kind of critical access care is saving residents of this small town a three-hour round trip drive to the nearest ER.

"That really makes living in these communities so much more possible for so many people," Dr. Busko added.

Most paramedics live two hours away, so an old nursing home was converted into apartments for workers to sleep in during shifts. The whole concept has also helped with staffing issues. Giving paramedics a chance for professional development they might not have had in the past.

"It’s another step beyond the regular paramedicine I’ve done for many years. It allows me to work with the doctor and add skills I normally wouldn’t be doing," paramedic Ed Moreshead said.

The whole program is costing Jackman and surrounding communities about $450,000 a year to implement. Some of the money will come from a tax increase, which is no small feat in a town where the median income is just $29,000.

But out here it means access to the kind of health care that's never been possible before.

"We’re able to take care outside of the clinic, now we can go to people’s homes and treat them where they live."