Sioux Falls to be the epicenter of telemedicine education

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Since 1993 with static video, slow computers and the early days of the internet, Avera was already practicing telemedicine.

Now, 26 years later, the Sioux Falls-based health system will be home to a national education program in telehealth thanks to a multi-million dollar donation from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The organization’s $4.3 million grant to Avera eCARE is to design a first-of-its-kind certificate program to standardize the care delivered through telehealth.

Kristi Sidel is the director of telemedicine education at Avera eCARE. She says right now there isn’t much in terms of education for telehealth.

“There are some potential manuscripts you may be able to Google or find, but there’s not really a standard curriculum per se for telehealth and we are going to be creating that,” Sidel said.

The 5,000 square-foot education center will be located on the Avera eCARE campus in the northwest part of Sioux Falls. They hope to attract local, national and international students to learn the best practices.

Dr. Kelly Rhone is the medical director of outreach and innovation at Avera eCARE. She is also an emergency physician and sees first-hand how telehealth can save lives and money.

“We are so lucky here that we have had both public and private grants in order for us to learn what we’ve learned over the last 26 years. So, we feel like it’s an obligation that we should share this information, what we’ve learned and what we see,” Rhone said.

Avera will use both local experts and those from across the country to develop the curriculum. They hope the education center will be done by December or January, and the curriculum launched by next summer.

“All of this is possible really from the Helmsley Charitable Trust being such a great partner with us in the world of telehealth,” Rhone said. “We’ve worked with them a long time, really helping to bring telemedicine to rural areas and now we’re kind of flipping it on its side and saying now we’re going to be training people how to give telehealth in a really meaningful way.”

The Avera eCARE campus provides ICU, pharmacy, senior care, emergency, correctional and school health, behavioral health, hospitalists care and 35 specialties.

It’s not just a South Dakota service, Avera eCARE is in 420 sites across the country and has helped 1.5 million patients. It’s even on an app. This site is also home to the Avera Farm and Rural Stress Hotline.

“Sometimes they’re surprised that this is coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I’m saying ‘of course it’s coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.'”

Dr. Kelly Rhone, medical director of outreach and innovation, Avera ecare

“Since 2008, the Helmsley Charitable Trust has placed a priority on supporting projects that help ensure equal access to high quality health care, especially in rural areas. eCARE helps us achieve this mission in many ways. We know that educating medical professionals will impact the lives of patients, both today and in the future,” Walter Panzirer, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, said in a statement.

Helmsley has made several donations to Avera eCARE in the past few years. Just last year the organization helped get the Behavioral Health eCARE program off the ground. CEO Deanna Larson is thankful for the partnership.

“We could not do this without them, and so we are very grateful,” Larson said.

The next steps include establishing a governing board for the creation of the telehealth certificate program and putting together a national expert panel to check the curriculum.

“I just think that this showcases that innovation comes from all sorts of places,” Rhone said. “So when I’m traveling around and talking about telehealth, sometimes they’re surprised that this is coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and I’m saying ‘of course it’s coming out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.'”