One education center's experience with video networking

May 1, 2006

If one word describes the nearly 150,000 square miles of Montana,it's "vast." And while Montana residents value their state's openspace and its natural beauty, all that space makes healthcarecoordination and delivery difficult at best, as Tom Brewer with theMansfield Health Education Center (Mansfield Center) in Billings,Mont., explains.

If one word describes the nearly 150,000 square miles of Montana, it's "vast." And while Montana residents value their state's open space and its natural beauty, all that space makes healthcare coordination and delivery difficult at best, as Tom Brewer with the Mansfield Health Education Center (Mansfield Center) in Billings, Mont., explains.

"Montana is a very large state, but we only have a population of a little more than 900,000," says Brewer, director of operations for the center. "That means we have a lot of rural areas, and reaching the people who live there to provide medical care can be a serious problem."

Brewer is an employee of the Northwest Research & Education Institute (NWREI), which was formed in 2004 as a joint venture by St. Vincent Healthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Network to facilitate clinical and applied research, provide continuing medical education for physicians and other healthcare professionals and coordinate community health education programs. A large portion of these programs are facilitated through the Mansfield Center in Montana, which is managed by the NWREI.

The Mansfield Center is an eight-room conferencing facility on the St. Vincent campus used for the delivery of health information, which includes a room that can accommodate 240 people with integrated video conferencing at the touch of a button. This integrated room enables "town hall" conferences, during which 30 to 50 video-equipped sites are connected. The town hall format frequently covers state and local government healthcare policy discussions.

Recently, state officials held a summit with community members on methamphetamine use in which the governor, a senator and a number of state representatives joined the meeting from remote sites via video to discuss how methamphetamine use affects healthcare and communities in Montana, and how best to deal with the drain it creates on resources.

The main use of the Center's video resources is continuing education for a large and diverse audience of healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals. On average, eight hours of video classes occur each week including education from the Denver Children's Hospital in Colorado and National Grand Rounds which links telemedicine programs across the United States via video.

Community education is another important use of the video network at the Mansfield Center. Classes, such as "Current Care in Diabetes," are held for residents and feature speakers from around the country who provide information about the latest disease management and treatment options.

Making the connections

The Mansfield Center offers interactive video conferencing through the Partners in Health Telemedicine Network (PHTN). The network delivers education to healthcare professionals and the community, as well as provides telemedicine to rural sites.

Based on 28 Polycom video conferencing systems located throughout Montana, the PHTN IP video network enables the connection of 20 sites in one video call. In addition, PHTN provides audio connections for the hospital's day-to-day administrative needs and voice conferencing.

The video network also includes a Polycom Practitioner Cart, a video solution to integrate with standards-based medical peripherals that is easy to use, manage and deploy in medical and healthcare environments.

In the Mansfield Center's integrated conference rooms, rack-mounted Polycom video systems are combined with ceiling microphones, which allow participants to be heard clearly no matter where they are sitting in the room.

Delivering care regardless of location

In addition to the video applications at the Mansfield Center, the PHTN enables video conferencing for St.Vincent Healthcare.

"From one end of our video network to the other is about a seven-hour drive," explains Brewer. "So the importance of eliminating that distance and seeing patients immediately and in real time cannot be emphasized enough."

For example, the Network's Polycom Practitioner Cart allows for burn consultations. When a burn patient arrives in the emergency room, St. Vincent Healthcare physicians have the ability to connect via video to the Utah Intermountain Burn Center, a world-class burn care facility. Through video, the physicians in Utah are able to see the patient three hours earlier in the care cycle, improving outcomes and shortening the length of hospital stays.