The average American probably won't recognize her. She's small in stature, but in medicine, Dr. Mary Wakefield stands tall. Not only is she the nation's top nurse, she's also the leader of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
On a quiet Wednesday in January, Dr. Wakefield toured Avera's e-Helm to see what Washington can learn from the Midwest's premiere telemedicine network.
"Avera and South Dakota are helping to lead the way, to help inform our thinking at the federal level about what this could look like in other parts united states to ensure that people in rural communities have access to high-quality healthcare." said Dr. Wakefield.
The HRSA was one of the founding supporters of Avera's e-Care network which has quickly become one of the most extensive telemedicine networks in the nation. Deanna Larson is the senior vice president of quality initiatives and oversees the Avera e-Care network. She says the visit is not only a way to share how Avera is changing the delivery of medical services, it's also a motivator for every staff member at the e-Helm facility.
"It just pumps us all up because she is the national advocate for rural health care and for us to be fulfilling her mission and she's fulfilling ours, is really remarkable feeling. We are very very honored to have her here." said Larson.
The shining jewel of Avera e-Care is e-Emergency; the ability to link ER doctors with rural departments for those most critical cases. So far, the research data is promising that these TV screens and cameras are effectively making the Midwest a smaller and safer place to live. Now the question is will the rest of the country follow suit?
"We have so many parts of the United States that are under-served that are what we call health profession shortage areas. This (Avera e-Care) is over time part of the solution I think to that problem." said Dr. Wakefield.
Dr. Wakefield knows the value of telemedicine. She started her medical career as a nurse in a rural hospital where access to e-doctors and nurses would have been invaluable. Being a North Dakota native, she has a tremendous amount of pride knowing the future of health care is being cultivated here.
"To be able to point back to the heartland and to say this is a source of innovation, this is a headwater of innovation that can inform not just the northern plains but also the rest of the United States so am I excited about it? You bet I am! For personal reasons too!" said Dr. Wakefield.
The Avera e-Care system began as an e-ICU. It has since grown into several service lines and if you ask the Avera team they'll tell you; This is just the beginning.
"You know the world as they hear these things, and I am saying the world, they see applications and opportunities so it is really people pushing their sleeves up and making it happen! Our imagination, as big as it is, can take us a lot of places." said Larson.
While in Sioux Falls Dr. Wakefield also toured the Falls Community Health Clinic which was honored as a level 3 patient-centered medical home organization. For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA