The Hospital District has been a pioneer in the utilization of Telehealth services. Beginning in 1995, in collaboration with Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Forks Community Hospital has utilized telehealth technologies to extend the provision of specialty services that may otherwise be difficult to attain locally. In 1998, through a grant from the Office of Rural Health Policy, the Hospital District expanded the telehealth network to include eleven network partner sites on the North Olympic Peninsula, with a mental and social health focus. Telehealth services are now available to sites across the Olympic Peninsula and to Seattle area Hospitals. Using interactive video-conferencing systems and the transport of digital images the program allows patients in Forks to be evaluated and treated by specialists at other locations.
In 2000 telehealth services were extended to include the transport of digital radiology images from the newly installed CT scan equipment. Emergency CT images can be sent from the Forks Community Hospital Radiology Department to the Radiology Department at Virginia Mason Medical Center in a matter of minutes allowing prompt off hours or urgent radiology services.
Computer technology, communication's infrastructure, and digital imaging devices eliminate time and distance constraints, and patients can be spared the time, expense, and discomfort of travel. Special telehealth studios have been established for telehealth consultations. Patients' privacy and confidentiality are not compromised by this technique and the quality of care delivered is as comprehensive as that received conventionally. Many of our patients have told us that they were thoroughly comfortable with telehealth technology.
Telehealth service also provides educational opportunities for medical professionals, health-related presentations for patients and community members, and community health collaboration. Utilization of the system for meetings at distant locations helps the Hospital District contain travel costs for staff.