When Clemson’s mobile medical unit nurses, staff and students meet with patients, a session which could take mere minutes can instead take an hour because of inconsistent or nonexistent wi-fi internet service.
“When we’re in our mobile clinics we lose connectivity, it’s hard for us to see our electronic health records,” Joseph F. Sullivan Academic Nursing Center executive director Paula Watt said. “We can’t know what we have already down on a patient. We don’t know what medicines they’ve been on, for example, or what doctors they’ve been to.”
Clemson received a three-year funding commitment of $5.2 million from the Universal Service Administration Company Rural Health Care Program. The money will be used to bring high-speed broadband technology to 102 sites across South Carolina to improve the efficiency of rural health outreach efforts. After the three years expire, there will be an opportunity to renew the funding. The Healthcare Connect Fund also is providing a matching grant.
“It’s going to help the medical community that’s trying to take care of people all the time,” she said. “Then it also helps the mobile clinics that go into the communities to try to fill the gaps in care and support local providers in the kinds of things that they need to be doing for their communities.”
Watt said the wi-fi service will be connected for community use as well.
“It will really include broadband connectivity in general in the region,” she said. “It just so happens that we’ll have some kind of connection capability when we get there. So it’s really for the community.”
The Clemson mobile health clinic, combined with the telehealth opportunites provided by the enhanced broadband service, help provide care to places in rural South Carolina that lack health and medical services.
“Most of South Carolina is rural and there are places in this state still that have no physicians,” Watt said. “There’s an entire county that has no providers of any kind. There are just gaps all over this state where people just can’t get what they need.”
Clemson nursing students work alongside professionals at the mobile clinic to get a practical education. The goal is to encourage the students to work and live in these underserved areas when they graduate.
“We want to train people that know and love these kind of communities and that would be willing to go there and help and serve,” Watt said.
The Sullivan Academic Nursing Center partners with the Medical University of South Carolina, Servants for Sight and Self Regional Healthcare to provide the mobile services. More than 4,500 services were provided at more than 150 sites in 2017.
The service is expected to be connected within six months.
“This entire project is going to serve a lot,” Watt said.