When you think of the Delta, you may envision images of flat farmland planted with rows of cotton, soybeans or rice and small towns that have been forgotten. Covering parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the region is one of the poorest in the country. Extreme poverty, high unemployment and some of the lowest life expectancy rates in the U.S. have led to a steady decline in population over the years, leaving most of these agricultural communities on life support.
The residents of Cotton Plant, Arkansas know these struggles all too well. Located in Woodruff County, just northwest of Brinkley, this rural farming community has survived with very limited access to basic services and amenities that most of us take for granted. Healthcare access has long been a challenge for Cotton Plant’s 650 residents—until now. Thanks to high-speed internet technology and ARcare, Inc., patients are getting help and services without having to worry about access to transportation, travel expenses and loss of time at work.
ARcare is based in Augusta and has more than 30 clinics across the state, including Cotton Plant. Using telemedicine technology, patients can see a healthcare provider at the local clinic and receive primary care services. Kalen Armstrong, APRN typically visits the clinic in Cotton Plant on Tuesday and Thursday. In the past, if patients needed care, they could either wait until the next time the clinic was open or go to a clinic in another town. Telemedicine offers a new and more convenient option.
“We feel like we can close the gaps that are left when our practitioners are not there to provide care by utilizing this technology. In most instances, our nurse at the site can be our hands and the provider can be watching and talking to the patient on the computer screen,” says Lauren Fields, coordinated care Quality director for ARcare, Inc.
Just like during a regular trip to the doctor, the nurse at the Cotton Plant clinic can perform multiple exams. For telemedicine visits, a digital stethoscope allows the remote practitioner to hear heart and lung sounds in real time and an otoscope can transmit live images for ear, nose and throat (ENT) exams.
On a cold January afternoon, Priscilla Toner, LPN conducted the clinic’s first telemedicine consult with an elderly patient who didn’t have a car. He was able to walk several blocks from his home to the Cotton Plant clinic for his appointment.
“So far, we’ve been extremely pleased with the abilities the technology has given us to provide additional hours of service at our clinic,” added Fields. “This technology helps eliminate the time spent by our practitioners who are having to travel between clinics and allows us to expand the hours of service to our patients. While there are still many healthcare gaps to fill across the state, telemedicine is making an impact.”
ARcare, Inc. has plans to expand services and clinic hours at other locations around the state.
Providing healthcare to communities that are lacking services was the primary goal of the UAMS e-Link network when it started back in 2011. The network was built with funding from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program which provided telemedicine equipment and connectivity to over 450 locations across Arkansas.
“Our goal all along was to give the residents of Arkansas access to care that many of us in the more populated areas take for granted. As the network and the technology continues to improve, our goal is to make sure that no matter where you live, you will have access to the healthcare you need,” said Roy Kitchen, director, UAMS e-Link Network.