Virtual visits

This is a sidebar that accompanied the May 1 cover story, “Is there a doctor in the hills? The rigors and rewards of rural health care” by staff reporter Caitlin Byrd.

Dr. Steve North, founder and president of the Center for Rural Health Innovation, is building relationships with patients even when he’s not physically present.

Telemedicine, says North, can help deliver care to rural populations. It can also attract students who might later return to practice medicine in these areas. To achieve those goals, the Bakersville-based nonprofit has developed two programs: MY Health-e-Schools and Homegrown Healthcare.

Thanks to high-definition video conferencing and specially designed stethoscopes and cameras, North explains, parents no longer have to take time off from work or pull their child out of school for routine doctors’ appointments. Operating out of school-based health centers staffed by nurse practitioners, the MY Health-e-Schools program serves 2,600 students and faculty members in the Mitchell and Yancey County school systems.

“If we can see somebody at their school for 15 minutes for a cold, they don’t end up at their doctor at the end of the day, or the emergency room, for something that’s not an emergency,” says North.

A $500,000 federal grant is bringing fiber optic Internet access to Mitchell and Yancey counties. With that in mind, North wants to take the telehealth concept into people’s homes.

“We have to figure out how do we, as a community, use that to try to reduce hospital admissions, to try to provide patients with the ability to be evaluated and managed without leaving their house?” North says.

Meanwhile, to help address the physician shortage, the nonprofit will soon launch its social-media-based Homegrown Healthcare program. “Whether they’re interested in physical therapy, nursing or surgery, students can connect with each other at a school level, and then also with rural providers who are practicing in our area, and have a conversation,” he explains.

“The No. 1 indicator that somebody’s going to practice in a rural area, regardless of their health profession, is having grown up in a rural area.”

Ultimately, says North, these programs aim to improve access to medical services in distant rural communities. “Sometimes, just getting a cast on at the right time is hard if you don’t have adequate health insurance.” — Caitlin Byrd

To watch a video about the Center for Rural Health Innovation’s MY Health-E-Schools program, click below:


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.