Published on February 24, 2021

Telemedicine Expansion Discussed in West Branch Visit with Rep. Moolenaar

Photo of MidMichigan Health staff and U.S. Representative John Moolenaar, R-Midland with telemedicine equipment.

U.S. Representative John Moolenaar, R-Midland, recently visited MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch to learn more from health system representatives on its work to expand telemedicine in much needed rural areas. Pictured left to right: Dana Thering, M.B.A., director of strategic planning and business development; Tom Wood, M.B.A., B.S.N., R.N., director of trauma and virtual care, MidMichigan Health; Steven W. Blodgett, M.B.A., C.P.M., C.T.C., C.H.A.M., V.C.-D.S.E., virtual care manager, MidMichigan Health; Rep. John Moolenaar, and Ray Stover, president, MidMichigan Medical Centers in Gladwin and West Branch.

U.S. Representative John Moolenaar, R-Midland, recently visited MidMichigan Medical Center – West Branch to learn more from health system representatives on its work to expand telemedicine in much needed rural areas. During the visit, Rep. Moolenaar introduced new legislation that would help to increase internet access to those in rural communities. Specifically, the “BOOST” (Broadening Online Opportunities through Simple Technologies) act would provide rural homeowners and primary lessees with a refundable consumer tax credit of up to $300, to supplement the purchase of a mobile hotspot they can use to connect to the internet, or the purchase of a hotspot booster they can use to increase the speed of a slow connection. MidMichigan Health leaders agreed the act would be of great benefit to the communities as it would expand the opportunity for patients to take advantage of growing telemedicine opportunities.

Today, telemedicine is being implemented in a variety of ways at MidMichigan Health and provides a multitude of benefits to patients, including reducing exposure to COVID-19, providing convenient care for both specialty care and primary care patients, and increasing the likelihood that patients will follow up with routine care. The health system recently celebrated the milestone of providing 100,000 virtual visits since the inception of its virtual care program in 2016. According to MidMichigan’s virtual health experts, this milestone was the result of early system-wide investment in the technology coupled with a dramatic increase in demand for virtual care services during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“MidMichigan Health chose to invest in virtual care and make it a priority long before it was mandated by a global pandemic,” said Tom Wood, M.B.A., B.S.N., R.N., director of trauma and virtual care for the health system. “Our program was driven by our goals to improve access to advanced specialists and offer the same high-quality of standard of care throughout the service area. The experience and infrastructure we have developed over the years also enabled us to quickly respond and expand to new services when COVID-19 required it.”

Due to the rural nature of MidMichigan Health’s service area, the health system was an early adopter of telemedicine, enabling patients in even the most remote areas to consult with advanced specialists. For example, all of MidMichigan’s Emergency Rooms partner with Michigan Medicine’s Telestroke program, providing 24/7 access to highly specialized neurologists for rapid stroke diagnosis and treatment that can save lives and improve functional outcomes. The health system also offers telemedicine consults with a wide variety of specialists ranging from psychiatry to cardiology to nephrology.

The program has since expanded to include video visits and e-visits that a patient can complete from home plus e-consults that enable providers to collaborate electronically through the patient’s chart. The health system offers patients the option of having a video visit with their own MidMichigan Health provider, rather than a third-party teledoc service. This ensures that the provider is familiar with the patient and has access to their medical chart for improved safety and continuity of care.

“Virtual care combines technology and human interaction to help patients get the care they need, when and where they need it,” said Steven Blodgett, M.B.A., C.H.A.M., V.C.-D.S.E., C.T.C., C.P.M., virtual care manager, MidMichigan Health. “Options such as telemedicine, e-visits and video visits enable patients to get medical advice or treatment remotely, saving them time and travel while connecting them to the appropriate specialists. By providing these virtual care options, we have saved more than 1.5 million miles in travel for our patients. Other options make everyday tasks faster and easier, such as online appointment booking, e-check in, viewing test results and medical records electronically, renewing prescriptions electronically and more.”

Blodgett is also participating in the Connected Nation project through the Midland Broadband Committee. The program collects data from local stakeholders and works directly with providers to identify needs and opportunities for expanding access to broadband, ultimately developing a county-specific Technology Action Plan.

“Being part of this project, just takes our involvement one step further to ensuring those who want internet access have the opportunity to do so,” said Blodgett. “Telemedicine is here to stay and it’s only going to get better. That is why it’s so important to us to make sure those patients who want to utilize it can.”

Virtual care options at MidMichigan include e-visits for specific symptoms, primary care provider video visits, MyMidMichigan patient portal, e-consults, telemedicine and virtual post-op appointment. Those who would like to learn more about these options may visit www.midmichigan.org/virtualcare.