EVERETT— A new telehealth program through the Snohomish Health District will eliminate an estimated 1,200 to 2,400 miles of travel for rural residents.
Currently, the health district operates on a paper-based program.
“They don’t travel well — paper and pencil,” Jennifer Egger, the health district’s communications coordinator laughed. “It’s pretty behind the times.”
The new program will make treatment more accessible and data more secure for tuberculosis patients, as well as those seeking maternity and pediatric care. It might come as a surprise that the county has seen at least 20 diagnosed cases of tuberculosis per year since 2017, a disease that requires significant assistance and time to manage.
“A 90-minute commute one way turns into three hours of your day, and that has a significant impact downstream on your work day and your ability to generate revenue,” Snohomish Health District Administrative Officer Shawn Frederick said.
The funding, secured by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, will go toward an electronic system for health records. The system will transfer patient data online and allow for virtual appointments, giving health district workers access to client records both from their offices and in the field.
“We need to catch up with the technology here,” said Katie Curtis, the health district’s director of prevention services, joking that this upgrade in systems is like jumping from a dot matrix printer to a wireless printer.
Curtis and her colleague Nicole Thomsen, the health district’s public and government affairs manager, submitted the funding application after seeing the needs of residents in the district.
DelBene’s staff fielded about 60 applications to fund federal projects in Washington’s 1st District. They refined the pool to a final 10. All of those were approved by Congress earlier this year, amounting to about $7 million in local projects spanning from Carnation to Nooksack.
DelBene presented an oversized $250,000 check to the health district Thursday.
Frederick acknowledged that while the telehealth system fills a dire need for the county, there’s still work to be done.
In 2019, the ratio was one full-time health district employee to every 6,500 residents, Frederick said.
“In the past decade — with the exception of the years in COVID — our staffing levels have consistently gone down almost every single year,” he said.
Frederick hopes to get more funding to hire more employees soon, but for now, the telehealth system will allow the district’s medical staff to make more efficient use of their time.
DelBene noted our health care system is “rapidly becoming digital,” and the new telehealth program will help people in rural parts of the county to take advantage of that.
“This will help improve health outcomes, and save patients and taxpayers money,” DelBene said. “This isn’t a one-time use program.”
Officials expect the telehealth program to be live within nine months.