Avera opens Helmsley Telehealth Education Center to teach virtual health delivery

March 16, 2020

The plan was to hold a ribbon-cutting today for Avera’s new Helmsley Telehealth Education Center.

Restrictions on gatherings that are meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 canceled those plans, though the pandemic itself is one more example how the work that will happen inside the telehealth center could help form the future of medicine.

The 5,000-square-foot center in northeast Sioux Falls will host training for a new national telehealth certificate program. It was funded by a $4.3 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“It’s the first kind of education center that actually is going to provide telehealth education and training, plus clinician opportunities to interact and train with each other,” said Deanna Larson, CEO of Avera eCARE.

“And we have some on-site learning, immersion training, to bring them on site.”

The education center can seat up to 108 participants, but training also will be delivered virtually.

Breakout rooms also can seat smaller groups.

Some remote education already has been delivered through the center as it has ramped up. But larger cohorts will begin using it once a curriculum has been finalized.

Avera eCARE is working in partnership with Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Harvard University to develop the curriculum for the national telehealth certificate. The group met in January in Boston to begin to develop curriculum competencies and detailed objectives for the telehealth certificate to be offered under a newly created American Board of Telehealth.

It will be using a modified version of the Delphi method, which is a way of obtaining a reliable consensus of opinions by a group of experts. The initial 12-hour, in-person gathering in Boston will be followed by three rounds of surveys to continue to arrive at a consensus. The 13 experts will be included as co-authors of a manuscript publishing the results of this process.

The goal is to create a “gold standard,” consistent curriculum in telehealth.

“Getting the top two organizations – Avera for the telemedicine care, being the largest provider in the U.S., and Harvard being one of the finest institutions in academics and education – to have them partner and write this curriculum is huge,” said Walter Panzier, a trustee for the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“This makes it the go-to standard when it comes to education for physicians and the telehealth care system.”

The goal is to begin peer reviews of the curriculum in the next few months and have the final course work developed by early fall.

“The first part is core education principles, so that would be certainly important for physicians, advanced practice nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers and any clinicians working on telehealth or telemedicine as part of their processes,” Larson said.

“They could be administrative, technical folks like IT staff, communications staff. If they’re going to be billing, they’re going to need folks to look at regulations and billing requirements, so in the first part of this, we’re putting components of those entry-level education needs.”

That will include addressing areas such as broadband requirements to run video, how to have a HIPPA-compliant server or cloud system and how to provide telehealth while working from home.

It will take about three days to earn a certificate in the core program, Larson said. Each student will pay for the education.

“They don’t have to come on site; a lot will be done online,” she said. “We’re trying to make the entry level very doable so we get these core concepts in place. And we’re aware there are several individual practitioners who would like an immersion event to come to eCARE and put it into practice, so that’s phase two.”

The Helmsley trust has funded more than $94 million for 172 telemedicine-specific grants with Avera in the past 11 years. eCARE works with health care providers in 31 states and 480 communities with several more under contract.

Education from the telehealth center can get “as big as eCARE can be,” Panzier said. “When we first entered eCARE, we didn’t realize how big of a service line it could be. We thought eEmergency and ePharmacy, and now we look at psychiatry, school nurses, prisons – it’s endless. In my mind, it’s a starting point. If it goes well, this could grow just like eCARE grew and be a big program.”

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Avera opens Helmsley Telehealth Education Center to teach virtual health delivery

A first-of-its-kind education center to teach delivery of virtual health care has opened in Sioux Falls.

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