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Physicians 90 miles away assist in treating local patients

Patients in one heartland hospital are getting services from specialists at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, without ever having to step foot in Iowa City.

University of Iowa Health Care has teamed up with Van Buren County Hospital to offer the Virtual Hospitalist Service.

“It provides input to us about a patient that may be a little more complex, whether or not we can keep them here, whether or not we have to transfer them to a different facility, if we can utilize their knowledge to help us keep the patient here, the patient appreciates that because most of the folks we have are elderly and that's a significant problem for them to travel 90 miles,” said Dr. Tim Blair, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Van Buren County Hospital.


Medical providers in Keosauqua speak on a video call at 8:45 a.m. and at 4:30 p.m., every day, with hospitalists at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Hospitalists are physicians focused on inpatient care.

“It allows me to have someone reassure me, ‘Ya, that's kind of what I was thinking, I agree, that's what I would do,’ because when you're here out in the middle of nowhere, you kind of feel like you're alone at times, and it just kind of changes that, so you always have that comradery so you can bounce things off someone if you need to,” said Dr. Blair.

Doctors say it can mean a big change in medical bills.

“I think there's a considerable cost savings because it's a $6,000 plus ride in an ambulance to go from here to a higher level of care by the time you count all of the staff and equipment and that sort of thing,” said Dr. Blair. “Even more if it's a helicopter ride.”

With the virtual hospital experience, it's allowing rural hospitals to be a step ahead in giving the best care for its patients.

“When we have admissions during the day, or in the middle of the night, then we put an order in through the electronic medical record to consult the virtual hospitals for the admission and they have about an hour leeway to call us back and go over things in case they’re busy on their side,” said Dr. Blair. “Generally they're pretty quick getting back to us.”

The Virtual Hospitalist Service at the Van Buren County Hospital began in November of 2016.

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