Wake Forest Baptist Health announced Tuesday that it received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to improve rural cardiovascular care in Wilkes County by expanding telehealth services.

Wake Forest Baptist’s emergency care and cardiovascular staff will be connected virtually and in real-time with staff at Wilkes Emergency Medical Services, the Wilkes Health Department’s Public Health Community Clinic and Wake Forest Baptist Health – Wilkes Medical Center’s emergency department.

Telehealth is the use of digital technology, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely and manage health care.

A press release said that with telehealth, Wake Forest Baptist clinicians will help Wilkes EMS paramedics quickly classify patients based on EKG readings, vital signs and risk scores and also assist with treatment and transportation decisions.

It will also help Wake Forest Baptist provide guidance to Wilkes Medical Center’s emergency department providers in evaluating, managing and transferring patients and assist health department clinic staff with consultative advice for patients after they’re treated by EMS or in the emergency department for cardiovascular symptoms.

“The goal of this project is to improve rural health equity and outcomes for patients by using telehealth to bring new, leading-edge cardiovascular care to communities throughout Wilkes County,” said Dr. Simon Mahler, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist.

“Our health system already operates a wide-reaching tele-stroke network for emergency departments across rural North Carolina – including Wilkes Medical Center – so expanding our telehealth program to improve rural cardiovascular care is a natural extension of that work.”

Mahler and his team will determine if adding cardiovascular telehealth helps reduce unnecessary emergency department visits, transfers and re-admissions. They will also determine if the program contributes to a decrease in heart attacks, invasive coronary procedures and cardiovascular mortality in Wilkes County.

The HRSA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for improving health care to people who are geographically isolated, economically or medically vulnerable.

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