The doctor is in wherever the patient may be

July 18, 2012
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Hope Network has turned what began as an in-house tool into an innovative device that treats clients in need of psychiatric care. The unique method has saved patients time and money, and has allowed the agency to expand its services.

About 18 months ago, Hope began to use its secure video conferencing equipment in a way that allowed its psychiatrists to “see” patients who would normally have to travel quite a distance for an appointment. These clients now go to the Hope facility nearest their homes in such locales as Big Rapids, Coldwater and Kalamazoo and have live counseling sessions with doctors located in a Hope office in Grand Rapids, East Lansing or Mount Pleasant.

“Initially, they always see a patient in person, but they do follow-up care by video conference,” said Margaret Kroese, vice president of Hope Network and executive director of rehabilitative services.

Prior to making the switch, Hope used the equipment exclusively for staff meetings and other company functions across its statewide network.

“We’ve had the video-conference capability for probably about four years and we’ve used it a lot for connecting our staff across the state in the many areas that we’re in, and our psychiatrists will meet by video conference, as well. So it’s a way for them to stay on top of best practices and cases,” said Kroese. “We use it for staff meetings, too.”

Hope Network began using the equipment for patient counseling because a number of its clients live in areas that aren’t close to where specialty practitioners are located. But, at the same time, these patients aren’t that far from a Hope clinic.

“Our psychiatrists are quite specialized. We’re working with brain injuries and we have neuropsychiatry. Getting the specialists into those areas is difficult. Often, they’re not local and we need to bring them up there or have the patients come down. So this was a way to bring more services to people without having to have them drive all those miles,” said Kroese.

Hope offers the service to its psychiatry clinic patients who have had a brain injury, suffered a stroke or have some other disorder that is neurologically related.

The outcomes from these remote consultations have been positive.

“We have gotten good responses. And one of the things that people appreciate is being able to be followed by a physician that they may have started with in one of our larger locations — like maybe they’ve come through the Grand Rapids area for that first emergency treatment through one of the hospitals, and then they come to Hope Network for their stabilizing,” said Kroese.

“Once they go back home and are able to be followed by that same psychiatrist is pretty important for them. People often need psychiatry to follow them for a long time, and not to have to make regular trips just for that service is really appreciated — particularly by families who have to take a day to drive to meet a physician, get lunch and then drive back. That can take quite a bit of time. So, yes, we’re getting some nice feedback,” she added.

The patients must meet personally with their doctors on a quarterly, biannual or yearly basis, depending on their needs and preferences, once they begin the video conference program.

Hope Network was founded in 1963 as a nonprofit Christian organization. Its mission is to offer people a greater level of independence through specialty health treatments and community services. Hope treats brain and spinal cord injuries, mental illness and development disabilities. The agency also provides its clients with specialized transportation, residential services, and job training and placement. It addresses their social, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs through roughly 240 locations statewide.

Kroese said Hope also was able to use the video conferencing equipment when the agency was surveyed by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. CARF surveyors said the video conferencing was very helpful.

“Their surveyors were able to be out at different locations and connect themselves in a video conference,” she said. Kroese added that the system also has been used for educational purposes and to provide support in various areas.

But most importantly, Hope Network has been able to expand its neuropsychiatry services for people with traumatic brain injuries via the conferencing.

“Through technology, we have been able to find a way to make our services more accessible to the people who need them,” said Kroese. “We hope to be able to d

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