Nato visits Avera in South Dakota to learn how telemedicine could help in disaster response
July 1, 2015
As they consider a multinational telemedicine network to help respond to disasters worldwide, Nato medical and information technology experts gathered at Avera Health’s telemedicine centre in South Dakota last week to gain insights from Avera’s eCare network.
“Avera eCare is one of the top telemedicine systems in the world,” said Donald Kosiak, medical director for Avera eCare. “We cover 545,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of France and Germany combined.”
One virtual hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, serves 99 emergency rooms, 63 hospital pharmacies, 91 wired eICU beds at 28 hospitals and more.
Kosiak is serving as medical chair for Nato’s Science for Peace & Security programme, which is researching a multinational telemedicine system to improve access to health services and increase survival rates in emergency situations, such as the recent earthquake in Nepal.
Avera’s national recognition as a telemedicine leader, in addition to Kosiak’s involvement, brought Nato experts to Sioux Falls for a working session. This is the first time this Nato team has met in the USA. Next on its agenda is a validation exercise, or disaster simulation, in Ukraine.
“The involvement of our friends at Avera is extremely important,” said Raed Arafat, secretary of state and head of the department of emergency situations at the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Romania, and Nato country project director. “Agencies that have high experience in this field are very valuable to us in building a multinational capacity for disaster response. When several nations send medical disaster teams to a place like Nepal, we’re looking into how we can use a multinational telemedicine system to bring in physicians who are thousands of miles away from the scene.”
Kosiak said such a system would multiply the multinational force that’s available to respond to disasters, much like Avera eCare allows a larger number of specialists to be available to patients in rural communities than could be present in person.
“It’s our privilege to show this team what we’ve built through our partnership with the Helmsley Trust and government funds to extend medical specialists to take care of patients across a large geographical area,” Kosiak said.
Through telemedicine, disaster response teams could serve more people, with fewer volunteers at the scene.
“There are physicians who would love to volunteer, who couldn’t leave their job for 30 days to travel to a place like Nepal, but could take a day or two off to serve through telemedicine,” Kosiak said. Telemedicine also could help save resources at the scene, by not having to send patients hundreds of kilometres away for a specialty consult.
After its Ukrainian exercise later this year, the Nato team hopes to have a larger, multinational exercise that would simulate a major disaster. When the research project is completed, the hope is that it can lead to a practical, functional system to implement at the scene of disasters.
“South Dakota is involved on the lead of this project,” Arafat said.
Kosiak added: “In hosting this event in Sioux Falls, South Dakotans can take pride in knowing that the telemedicine developments discussed here could benefit people caught up in disasters across the world.”