Story Spotlight

Story Spotlight

Telehealth Grants Help Area Practices Increase Access to High-Risk Patients During Pandemic

Greensboro AHEC selected projects for the practice mini-grants funded by a gift from the N.C. State Employees Credit Union.
Rockingham Free Clinic

The Free Clinic of Rockingham County purchased new tablets, a Wi-Fi router, and upgraded internet service to provide “parking lot” appointments for patients without access to technology for standard virtual visits.

GREENSBORO ­­— The COVID-19 pandemic posed a key problem for health providers — how to safely deliver quality care to patients unable to visit physical spaces. For many, telehealth has been the solution—but implementing such projects costs money, and options for clinics serving patients from underserved areas are often limited.

"Not that anything good has come from the pandemic, but it has quote-unquote ‘forced’ people, mainly insurance companies in the for-profit sector, to accept telehealth as a way of doing business,” says Kim Rider, executive director of the Free Clinic of Rockingham County, which provides free medical care for uninsured people living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. “It’s great for us, because our small entity couldn't have afforded to build a telehealth platform.”

To assist practices like the Free Clinic, Greensboro Area Health Education Center (Greensboro AHEC) last year awarded mini-grants of up to $10,000 to support telehealth projects in our service region. The initiative was funded by a $500,000 gift to the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) from the N.C. State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU).

Among the grant recipients were the Free Clinic, Belmont Medical Associates in Reidsville, and the Orange County Health Department. Each practice used the funds to develop a tech-based project that increased remote access and quality of service for its patients, especially the underserved and those in high-risk COVID categories. See their results below:

Telehealth “Parking Lot” Appointments
Free Clinic of Rockingham County  

Project:
In reaction to an increased need for services due to COVID-19, the Free Clinic took steps to install a “parking lot” telehealth appointment setup in the fall of 2020 that allowed patients without access to online services to safely receive care. The clinic upgraded their internet service and purchased two tablets and a new provider laptop. The grant also provided for signage, marketing, staff training, and new in-home monitoring devices for traditional telehealth patients.   

“The fact that we have a new tool in our toolbox to help our patients—that’s a game-changer for us,” says Rider, whose clinic serves about 800 unique patients, many of whom are essential workers. The clinic also serves much of the county’s indigent Hispanic population, who benefit from the clinic’s full-time translator.  

Outcome:
The clinic substantially increased their monthly average of appointments and reduce the need for emergency room visits after implementing the project in the fall of 2020. They are now considering plans to build a HIPPA-compliant shelter for curbside patients.

School-Based Curbside Immunization Clinics
Orange County Health Department  

Project:
Stay-at-home orders and limited clinic hours due to COVID-19 presented a barrier in ensuring N.C. high-school seniors were up to date on a newly-required booster immunization for the start of the 2020-21 school year. To meet this need, the health department partnered with Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro school districts to set up school-based curbside clinics to meet students where they were and safely provide immunizations and promote telehealth services.  

Outcome:
The department was able to vaccinate 60 students and schedule five students without primary care providers for telehealth appointments. The department is considering expanding hours for future curbside immunization clinics and continuing to schedule telehealth appointments.

Telehealth and Patient Communication Upgrades
Belmont Medical Associates (Reidsville)  

Project:
The COVID-19 pandemic increased Belmont Medical’s essential need to advance their outdated digital communications to maintain connection with their patients, many of whom live rurally and have limited access to providers. For its project, the practice sought to improve their digital presence and patient communications with a focus on chronic-condition patients with comorbidities. The grant provided for new routers and provider computers as well as upgraded health record modules, website and social media improvements, staff training, and marketing efforts.  

Outcome:
The practice saw a 12% increase in patients seen from Q4 2019-2020. The project’s portal improvements allowed the practice to target specific patient groups for sending timely alerts. 

For more information about Greensboro AHEC Practice Support and services available to practices in our region, please contact Suzanne Lineberry at 336.662.5810 or suzanne.lineberry@conehealth.com.

 Are you a healthcare professional serving a particular N.C. community? What does improving access to healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic look like to you? Let us know by posting your message to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn using the hashtag #TelemedicineSolutions and tag us @GreensboroAHEC. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Greensboro AHEC!

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Family Medicine Resident Completes Army Flight Surgeon Course

Greensboro AHEC currently supports two Army National Guard officers within its family medicine residency in coordination with Cone Health.
Scott Bland, DO

Scott Bland, DO, waves from the inside of a Chinook helicopter during his residency elective rotation at Fort Rucker military base in Alabama.

GREENSBORO — Greensboro Area Health Education Center (Greensboro AHEC), in coordination with Cone Health, is happy to announce that family medicine resident and Army National Guard battalion surgeon, Scott Bland, DO, 1-130th ARB NCARNG, has completed a six-week elective rotation to provide medical evaluations for flight-related service members. The fall 2020 training, based out of Fort Rucker, Ala., supported Dr. Bland’s plans to serve as a National Guard flight surgeon and to work in rural medicine as a civilian.

“I’d like to thank Cone Health for being so supportive of our military residents and fellows,“ said Dr. Bland. “A lot of medical students question whether they should mention military obligations, but I was reassured from the beginning that they were supportive, and they came through on that promise.”

Training for the flight surgeon course included:

  • Physiology related to environmental exposure in flight
  • Hypobaric chamber simulation of elevation effects on oxygen saturation
  • Healthcare management principles for leading battalion or brigade medical teams
  • Risk mitigation factors for various positions
  • Evaluating human factors that lead to aircraft mishaps  

“I was most surprised by the amount of engineering effort that goes into protective equipment for the soldiers,” said Dr. Bland, who gained flight time from the course aboard Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. “To see some of the crashes that are survivable due to a massive decades-long design effort was inspiring.”

Dr. Bland also notes Cone Health’s flexibility and the steps taken by the base to safely continue training despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the course, I had to test on arrival and quarantine in place prior,” says Bland. “We took social distancing very seriously.”

For more information about Greensboro AHEC Graduate Medical Education Support, please contact Terry Lynn at terry.lynn@conehealth.com.

 Are you a healthcare professional or student pursuing a career in health?  What steps are you taking to achieve your career goals? Let us know by posting your message to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn using the hashtag #HealthCareers and tag us @GreensboroAHEC. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Greensboro AHEC!

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Greensboro AHEC and Cone Health Advanced Practice Provider Fellowship Program Launching with 2020-21 Inaugural Class

The new program started Dec. 7 with primary care site training in four counties in the Greensboro AHEC service region.

GREENSBORO ­­— Committed to training and retaining an advanced practice provider (APP) workforce that meets the primary care needs of the patients and communities we serve, including rural and underserved areas, Greensboro Area Health Education Center (Greensboro AHEC) and Cone Health are pleased to announce the launch of our new community-based APP Fellowship Program and inaugural class, which started Dec. 7.  

APP Fellows

The APP Fellowship Class of 2020-21 includes, clockwise from top left, nurse practitioners Amy Stephens, MSN, APRN, FNP-C; Jessica Asaro, FNP; SaraBeth Early, DNP, APRN, AGNP-C; and Onyeje Ijaola, MSN, FNP-BC.

“APP fellowships are quickly growing as a means to train and retain nurse practitioners and physician assistants,” says Hugh H. Tilson, Jr., JD, MPH, director of the statewide NC AHEC Program. “NC AHEC is pleased to support this fellowship because of its benefits to our healthcare workforce in North Carolina, particularly in rural and underserved areas.”  

The 12-month immersive educational experience includes direct care in the clinic setting, select specialty rotations to enhance primary-care knowledge, continuing education through didactics and other methods, peer support, and mentoring.  

“It is our privilege and honor to foster the ongoing growth and development of the next generation of advanced practice providers with the launch of our Advanced Practice Provider Fellowship in Primary Care program,” says Dereck DeLeon, MD, chief academic officer of Cone Health.      

Fellows and primary care placements for 2020-21 are:

“What a great opportunity for new graduates to jump into primary care and have hands-on autonomous patient care with a team of experienced providers,” says Jade Breeback, physician assistant with Cone Health Primary Care & Sports Medicine at MedCenter Kernersville. “This year of fellowship will produce APPs who can be more confident in the excellence of the care they provide.“ 

For more information about the APP Fellowship Program, please contact Greensboro AHEC Graduate Medical Education Administrator Katina Blackwell Mitchell at katina.blackwell@conehealth.com.

Are you a healthcare professional serving a particular N.C. community?  What steps are you taking to improve patient access to services? Let us know by posting your message to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn using the hashtag #PrimaryCare and tag us @GreensboroAHEC. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Greensboro AHEC!

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Greensboro AHEC Practice Support Awards SECU Mini-Grants to Four Regional Practices for Telemedicine Projects

The grants are funded by a $500,000 gift to NC AHEC from the N.C. State Employees Credit Union.
Barn Door Health

Michael Martin, FNP, is the owner of Barn Door Health in Randleman, N.C., one of four practices selected to receive an SECU grant for telemedicine services and patient-care technology projects.

GREENSBORO — Greensboro Area Health Education Center (Greensboro AHEC) has named four N.C. primary care clinics in our Practice Support service region as winners of a mini-grant of up to $10,000, with the aim to support provision of telemedicine services, improve the health status of patients, and prepare for the post-COVID-19 realities of using technology in patient care.

The mini-grants are made possible through a $500,000 gift from the N.C. State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) to the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (NC AHEC) from the summer of 2020, intended to support N.C. primary care clinics in continuing their good work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the nine AHEC centers across the state were given a portion of the funds to support their local regional practices.

Several clinics across the region applied for the mini-grant, and after review, four regional clinics were selected. We are pleased to announce the winners of the mini-grants and the projects they support:

Barn Door Health in Randleman is an independently owned clinic, led by Michael Martin, FNP. Michael shared that he uses telemedicine to facilitate an increased patient compliance with follow-up appointments for diabetes management.

“The proliferation of smartphones ensures the possibility of telemedicine appointments in this rural community,” says Michael. “Many patients drive up to one hour to be seen at the clinic.”

With the mini-grant fund, Barn Door Health plans to acquire computers and tablets for video conferencing and in-home diabetic monitoring devices. They also plan to add a module to their electronic health record that enables the clinic to provide vulnerable patients with an accessible means to complete necessary chronic disease management appointments using telemedicine.

Belmont Medical Associates in Reidsville is a recognized Patient Center Medical Home that has served local families for over 50 years. Providers at the clinic know that improving patient communications and empowering patients to be interactive in their care leads to better health outcomes. Their aim with the mini-grant funds will be to focus on improving patient communication and education among patients with multiple comorbidities.

Belmont’s leaders welcome the news: “Our website is now being utilized by more patients than ever, and that spans all ages and populations. We believe that improving our web presence, making it simpler and more interactive with the patient portal will improve the quality of care for our patients.”

Over the next six months, the clinic will be enhancing their patient portal, clinic website, social medial, and in-home monitoring devices to better facilitate patient engagement in their health.

The Orange County Health Department, over the past few months, has focused on getting children caught up on missing immunizations since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented families from receiving these important preventative vaccines due to stay-at-home orders and limited clinic hours. The health department has partnered with Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro school districts to implement a curbside immunization program. The health department plans to use the mini-grant funds to purchase supplies to set up these curbside clinics and provide the critical personal preventative equipment for their staff. The target population for the curbside clinic will be rising high-school seniors, and if successful, will be expanded to other age groups of children.

Free Clinic of Rockingham County: “Our clinic provides free medical care for people living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below and to those who have no health insurance,” says Executive Director Kim Rider. “Most of our patients are employed as ‘essential’ workers — wait staff, cashiers, childcare workers, nursing home, and janitorial staff.”

Many of the patients at the Free Clinic also have multiple chronic conditions and are at high risk of COVID-19 complications. Because of these factors, the Free Clinic of Rockingham County plans on establishing “parking lot” appointments for patients without smartphones or WiFi access. In addition to this new access point, the clinic will provide at-home monitoring devices, such as blood pressure cuffs for patients who can complete a traditional telehealth visit. Kim also plans to upgrade their internet service and providers’ laptops to provide a better telehealth experience.

In addition to the mini-grant funds, Greensboro AHEC’s Practice Support team will be providing free quality improvement support to these clinics, such as assistance with budget, workflows, and evaluation.

“This is an amazing opportunity that the N.C. SECU has provided to frontline physicians across the nine counties in our service region,” says Greensboro AHEC Practice Support Director Suzanne Lineberry, MPH, MCHES. “Small clinics often lack the funds to upgrade technology or purchase simple capital investments. With these SECU funds, we have four amazing, hardworking clinics that have taken on the challenge to improve their clinical practices and provide more services for their patients.”

For more information about Greensboro AHEC Practice Support and services available to practices in our region, please contact Suzanne Lineberry at 336.662.5810 or suzanne.lineberry@conehealth.com.

Are you a healthcare professional serving a particular N.C. community? What does improving access to healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic look like to you? Let us know by posting your message to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn using the hashtag #TelemedicineSolutions and tag us @GreensboroAHEC. Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Greensboro AHEC!

Get Live Updates: @GreensboroAHEC 

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     LI: Greensboro Area Health Education Center


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Patricia Parrish


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