Avera eCARE eEmergency Wins National Rural Health Award

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust announced the winner of the 2016 Innovations in Rural Health Award at Campbell University October 28th. The Trust awarded Avera eCARE eEmergency (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) the New Rural Award, as well as $25,000 to continue its innovative work to improve the health and lives of those living in rural South Dakota and surrounding areas of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska and additional locations to include a total of 12 states. 

Since 2009, Avera eCARE has worked to connect medical specialists to patients in rural areas who do not have access to needed health care services close to home. Avera eCARE’s eEmergency program is an innovative telehealth model—created in collaboration with rural clinicians—centered on a telehealth hub staffed 24 hours a day. Rural hospitals have virtual, real-time access to board-certified emergency physicians and critical care nurses who can guide rural nurses and other providers in patient care until the rural physician arrives or provide a collegial consult on difficult cases. High-definition cameras and microphones allow the eEmergency virtual team to both see and hear everything that is taking place in the emergency room. 

“To me this is the purest form of medicine. We act as a second set of eyes and ears to help remote providers help their patients no matter what the situation throws at them,” said Katie DeJong, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Avera eEmergency. “It is an honor to be recognized alongside other great teams that share our passion for improving rural health.”

The Trust presented the award at an awards ceremony hosted on the campus of Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC – which has hosted the awards since the program began in 2013. At the event, three finalists from around the country presented their innovative ideas on how to act and think differently about community health challenges to a crowd of approximately 100 stakeholders from North Carolina’s health care community. 

Chosen from 114 submissions around the U.S., the finalists’ projects included Avera eCARE eEmergency of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Northern Dental Access Center of Bemidji, Minnesota, which provides a Dental Home—a place where people get care in an ongoing, accessible and coordinated manner for all their dental needs—to people in need within a large rural impoverished region; and The Free Clinics: Bridges to Health program of Hendersonville, North Carolina, which helps keep high-needs individuals out of the Emergency Room through integrated drop-in medical appointments and proactive care management. 

“As physicians we are taught that in an emergency situation, every second counts,” said Trust President Dr. Laura Gerald. “Using technology to connect rural emergency departments to specialists that they may not otherwise have access to epitomizes the type of pioneering solutions we were looking for when we launched this award. We are proud to recognize the team at Avera eCARE eEmergency and all of our outstanding finalists for the innovative work they are doing to improve rural health”

The entries were reviewed and scored by a National Review Committee of rural health practitioners, funders and experts, as well as Trust staff. Entries were judged based on five criteria: the ability to address difficult or long-standing issues of prevention or treatment; transferability to rural, economically distressed regions of North Carolina; consistency with high-impact work in other rural places; potential for impact within three to five years; and signs of success. 

The Trust established the Rural Health Award in 2013 to help honor groundbreaking rural health improvement work from around the country and spread innovation in addressing health challenges facing rural communities. Past winners include a mobile medication program designed to reduce hospitalization costs for seriously mentally ill individuals in rural Pennsylvania and a North Carolina program that pairs undergraduate students with rural clinics to help clinics improve primary care services.