Brad Reiners

Brad Reiners, physician assistant, visits with a Rainy Lake Medical Center patient using telehealth. Telehealth can be accessed at www.rainylakemedical.com under the clinic tab. Reiners has a master of physician assistant studies, and is certified by the National Commission of Certification of PAs.

The arrival of COVID-19 in Minnesota in early 2020 presented a series of challenges for Minnesota’s hospitals, health systems and communities.

Rainy Lake Medical Center health care providers were confronted with preparing for and responding to COVID-19 while also providing non-COVID-19 care. Patients were faced with making decisions about accessing care, including whether care capacity was available and whether they felt safe seeking care.

RLMC providers have seen the positive results of increased adoption of telehealth. Nancy Burmeister, RLMC board certified nurse practitioner, said telehealth helps her see patients in a safe, efficient way. Many patients, she said, benefit from the convenience telehealth offers.

In addition, RLMC patients needing lab work done can do so at their own convenience and can follow up with their provider through a telehealth visit.

Expanding the use of telehealth was a way for providers to see patients and preserve personal protective equipment and a way for patients to access care but feel safe from exposure to COVID-19. Its use in Minnesota grew significantly during the pandemic. Now health care facilities have the opportunity to increase access to telehealth for Minnesotans and make permanent some of the temporary advances that occurred during COVID-19 through bipartisan legislation. The bills are sponsored by Republican Sen. Julie Rosen and DFL Rep. Kelly Morrison, one of two physicians in the Legislature.

While previous law required patients to go to a health care provider site to access telehealth, this bill would continue to allow providers to deliver telehealth services directly to a patient’s home setting via audio-only telephone calls, or via secure two-way audio-video services on a tablet or computer. The legislation would allow scheduled visits to be conducted by telephone when a patient does not have access to internet or the appropriate electronic device at their location. These care delivery practices are currently in effect due to COVID-19.

Increased access to telehealth is patient-centered care. Allowing patients to access telehealth from their own home setting without the need to travel removes a barrier to getting needed health care and enhances equity within our statewide system of care. Telehealth also makes it easier for patients to receive needed care from specialists – including mental health providers – who may be located in distant parts of the state.

The pandemic accelerated the adoption and practice of telehealth in all aspects of care delivery, which has diminished barriers to health care and made a difference for our patients and communities across the state. Many people have personally seen the benefits of telehealth.