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Telehealth in EMS for Rural South Dakota

During the 2022 Legislative session, Governor Noem and the SD Legislature approved three funding initiatives that will infuse up to $20 million into Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in South Dakota. Those initiatives include:

  • Telehealth in EMS – $1.7 million
  • LifePak Monitor Defibrillators – $11.6 million
  • Regional Service Designation – $8 million

Specifically, Governor Noem commented on the telemedicine in EMS effort in her Budget Address, “Telehealth services will allow collaboration between hospital, medical professionals and EMS personnel to improve efficiencies in patient assessment, treatment, and transportation to definitive care centers.”

Avel eCare out of Sioux Falls was selected through a competitive RFP process and is contracted to implement telehealth services for EMS. Marty Link, Administrator with the South Dakota Department of Health’s Office of EMS and Trauma shared the news with healthcare communities. “On behalf of the South Dakota Department of Health, I am excited to announce that we will partner with Avel to implement telehealth services for EMS. This statewide initiative is the first of its kind—a pioneering opportunity to advance care to patients and support pre-hospital professionals.” Working hand in hand with Avel, the Department of Health will bolster the local workforce, expand access to care, and ensure the success of EMS agencies across South Dakota.

What does this mean?

The partnership with Avel will offer each participating licensed ground ambulance service in South Dakota a telehealth solution that will include the necessary hardware, software, installation, training, support, and telehealth subscription for professional consulting services. This will be a white glove experience and services will work hand in hand with Avel for the initial installation and continued support. The goal is to support the retention and recruitment of EMS workforce with access to on-demand collegial support.

Telehealth will provide access to board certified emergency physicians and nurses on a consult basis to assist ambulance crews in providing care. On request, the telehealth team will use video capability to assess the situation, augment the EMS crew’s efforts, or answer questions as EMTs or Medics provide treatment.

Will there be a cost to my service organization?

No. This initiative is funded through a combination of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and state general fund dollars. The initial total for this project is $1.8 million. State general funds will maintain annual service agreements contractually – no changes here. The one-time ARPA dollars will be used for the purchase of hardware, software, and installation. Your EMS agency may be responsible for the cost of additional hardware beyond the first set provided by the State.

What is the timeline?

In the next seven months, the goal is to have a minimum of 60 ambulances operational with telehealth services. November will focus on equipping four pilot sites located in Dell Rapids, Humboldt, Kimball, and Sturgis. These sites were selected based on the speed in which technology and workflow can be implemented along with the ease of accessibility to site equipment and team members. Additionally, they were selected due to the volume of encounters per agency; the desired mix of small and medium volume services as well as their geographical and connectivity diversity.

Following implementation of these pilot sites, Avel will work with early adopters to schedule pre-planning meetings, installation, training, and testing.

What are the requirements of a participating organization?

The success of this groundbreaking initiative will depend largely on participating ambulance services. Participating ambulance services will be required to:

  • Sign a participation agreement with the Department of Health
  • Sign an EMS Telemedicine Services agreement with Avel
  • Work with Avel on installation of equipment and training of personnel
  • Work collaboratively with your medical director
  • Agree to participate in a short survey following each telehealth experience
  • Document telehealth usage in the electronic Patient Care Report (ePCR) form
  • Return equipment should your service withdraw support for this initiative or dissolve

What do I need to do to be part of the success?

The state is currently seeking early adopters—services with a desire to be the first to implement, test, and start providing telehealth services in phase one. Licensed ambulance services are being asked to indicate their level of interest in this initiative by completing a brief online survey by November 30, 2022.

What happens next?

After the survey results are collected, the team will reach out to provide detailed next steps. This will include preplanning meeting requests, implementation timelines, and required documents to implement telehealth in your service.

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