Program Description - History

In the beginning ...

In the mid-1970's, St. Alexius was one of the first facilities in the nation to establish remote cardiac monitoring capabilities. The program enabled patients admitted to rural hospitals to have their heart rhythms monitored via phone lines 24 hours a day by staff from the Intensive Care Unit at St. Alexius. Over the next 20 years the program evolved to include other telemedicine related services such as infant pneumocardiograms, EKG and EEG interpretation and reading, and teleradiology.


Initial expansion ...

In 1994, a telemedicine task force was established to study the feasibility of expanding the telemedicine program to include real-time interactive medical consultations. This group spent approximately a year studying the concept before officially incorporating full-motion interactive video capabilities into the full range of telemedicine related services. 

As a part of this research, leading programs across the nation were studied. This research brought them to HealthNet-Texas Tech University Health Science Center. The program at HealthNet was chosen because they had successful experience providing telemedical consultative services to 108 counties in rural western Texas. The basis for their success is in comprehensive continuing education programs for physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals. Their close working relationship with rural physicians and specialists has enabled them to develop the innovative new TeleDoc™, a fully integrated and mobile unit that contains everything needed to conduct comprehensive patient assessments. The extensive involvement of physicians during the research and development phase facilitated their creation of a unit that is easy to use and suited to the needs of physicians. HealthNet has since teamed with NEC America, Inc., to concentrate on quality manufacturing and technology development. 

St. Alexius Medical Center began the TeleCare Network in the fall of 1995 as a pilot project with Garrison Memorial Hospital/Clinic and Turtle Lake Community Memorial Hospital. During the first two years of operation, the network was expanded to include over 25 rural health care facilities. In the early years the network had a small office within the Medical Center, and had just one person on its staff.


Cooperative venture ...

The TeleCare Network is a cooperative telemedicine service of St. Alexius Medical Center, Northland Healthcare Alliance, PrimeCare Health Group, and affiliated physicians. It is offered in collaboration with over 20 other health care facilities throughout the Dakotas.


Further expansion ...

Initially, the focus was on providing clinical consultations. That focus has recently expanded to utilizing the system for continuing medical education, other educational presentations, and administrative uses. With the increase in usage over the years, and the growing necessity of telemedicine, the network has expanded. In addition to adding sites to its list it has also moved to a new office within the Medical Center which provides a classroom setup for educational purposes, a private consultation room, and offices for four employees.

During the initial pilot with Garrison and Turtle Lake, administrators and physicians from rural facilities were invited to see a demonstration and discussion regarding the value of telemedicine for their particular community. The interest expressed by these rural communities was phenomenal! They were interested in utilizing telemedicine as a means of improving access to specialty physicians and keeping more patients at home for their health care. With that, plans were initiated to consider immediate network expansion.


Goal ... 

The goal of the network is to deliver high health care services, cooperatively, between providers in all communities of the network. This improves continuity of patient care and reduces time and travel expenses of physicians and/or patients and their families seeking specialty services.


Technology ... 

Our videoconferencing equipment is comprised of a polycom VSX 7000 camera, monitor and cart. Connections are currently transmitted over federal grant supported T-1 lines which are managed by the ND Healthcare Association, high speed cable internet services and exclusive T-1 lines purchased by St. Alexius Medical Center and reimbursed by the Universal Services Administrative Company.