Farm Credit Organizations Contribute $40,000 To Support Rural Telemedicine In Western Minnesota

Farm Credit organizations serving rural communities in Minnesota have joined to contribute $40,000 to a "telemedicine" initiative in the western part of the state.

AgStar Financial Services, AgriBank, CoBank and United FCS made the contribution to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, part of Allina Health, in Minneapolis. The grant will enable cardiologists at Abbott Northwestern to remotely treat patients at the RC Hospital in rural Olivia, Minn., located over 100 miles away.

"One of the significant challenges for rural communities is access to dependable, high-quality health care," said Everett Dobrinski, chairman, CoBank. "Telemedicine technology enables residents of these communities to receive treatment from leading physicians and other providers in urban centers without having to travel long distances. We're very pleased to be making this contribution and look forward to the benefits it will deliver over the long term."

As the largest hospital in the Twin Cities, Abbott Northwestern is recognized nationally and locally for its exceptional expertise and care. RC Hospital serves rural Renville County, a largely agricultural community with about 16,000 people. Abbott Northwestern and RC Hospital have a longstanding relationship, especially for emergency cardiac care.

In addition, Minneapolis Heart Institute® at Abbott Northwestern has had a clinic at RC Hospital since 1995. The new program, which builds on the existing Allina Health telehealth program, is expected to launch this month.

The Farm Credit grant will be used to cover the costs of the telemedicine equipment, including bedside ultrasound, as well as training for RC Hospital's local staff. The grant was supplemented by additional funding from the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation.

Initially, the cardiac telehealth program will be able to serve six patients each week. Patients and medical staff will be able to see and talk with each other by computer.

In Olivia, a hospital staff member will perform ultrasound tests on patients, and real-time images will help cardiologists in Minneapolis diagnose or rule out heart issues.

"We are grateful for this generous contribution," said Robert Hauser, MD, senior cardiologist at the Minneapolis Health Institute® at Abbott Northwestern. "The new program will significantly enhance the care available to Renville County residents and enable us to take advantage of significant advancements in telemedicine technology. Today, we can make a more accurate diagnosis using telehealth and ultrasound than we can in person with a stethoscope and touch."

"People are happier when they can be cared for where they live. Telehealth improves the quality of local care and helps to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions. Plus, if people need to go to the Twin Cities, the physicians will already be familiar with them, so those transitions are smoother, too," said Nathan G. Blad, president of RC Hospitals & Clinics.

Cardiology is the most recent addition to the Allina Health telehealth program. At more than 20 telehealth sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin, rural health care providers and patients can receive consultations and visits from experts within Allina Health via video.

Telehealth is currently used for stroke assessment and treatment, mental health assessments and referrals, psychiatric counseling and cancer genetic counseling. Allina Health plans to offer additional services over the next two years.

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