Healthy Future: Investing in technology and talent means a higher level of care

Someone recently made the analogy that overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic is similar to kayaking a swiftly moving river in northern Michigan. It is important to maintain keen focus in the present moment while always looking forward to be prepared for the twists, turns and obstacles ahead.

This is true in every sector of our business community, but perhaps none more than in healthcare.

As a member of the Munson Healthcare (MHC) board, I have seen the synergy between staying safe and providing access to the services that are essential to the health of our community. There has been balance between serving as responsible stewards of the system’s financial resources and its responsibility as the region’s largest employer, while making the appropriate investments to ensure a sustainable and healthy future.

Strategic investment in technology and talent is not only ensuring the people of our community have access to the care they need in the present, but access to a higher level of care that is saving lives now and will continue well into the future. The two areas in which this investment is most prominent are telehealth and neuroscience.

With the summer arrival of neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Rajah, director of the MHC endovascular stroke program, came the investment in cutting-edge imaging technology. In October, Munson Medical Center completed installation of an ARTIS icono biplane angiography machine, making Munson one of just a few hospitals in the nation to have this technology.

Minutes matter in stroke and neurological care. Patients are evaluated in real time with RapidAI, a cerebrovascular imaging platform, sent directly to Dr. Rajah’s smartphone which expedites delivery of care.

Munson Medical Center’s state-of-the-art biplane allows the surgeon to see 3-D images with incredible clarity for neuro-interventional procedures in stroke, carotid disease, aneurysms, brain tumors and other conditions. Patients that once needed to be flown to Grand Rapids are now treated here, which saves minutes, saves lives, improves results and keeps people closer to home and their loved ones.

The endovascular stroke program and expansion of neurosciences is also a strong recruitment tool to attract other highly qualified experts to our region. Another neurosurgeon, Dr. Justin Pearl, also joined medical staff this year, bringing skills in neuro-oncology.

Again, patients who previously needed to travel downstate can now stay up north. What’s more, the availability of these high-level healthcare services makes a statement about our quality of life that can aid in attracting professionals to our area.

Beyond expanding services, the Munson healthcare system has also adapted existing services over the past eight months by quickly implementing technology as a way to connect with patients safely and effectively in the midst of the pandemic.

Since March, MHC has conducted more than 25,000 virtual visits in light of office closures and pandemic restrictions. Telehealth includes two clinicians discussing a case over video conference; a robotic surgery occurring through remote access; physical therapy done via digital monitoring instruments, tests being forwarded between facilities for interpretation by a specialist; home monitoring through continuous sending of patient health data; client-to-practitioner online conference; or even videophone interpretation during a consult.

Telehealth continues to be an essential tool and that will no doubt continue into the future. One primary care practice in Traverse City recently reported conducting 28% of its visits through telehealth during a recent week.

Behavioral health services and management of chronic illnesses like diabetes are need in our area. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 92% of behavioral health visits have been virtual while the Munson Medical Center Endocrinology & Metabolism physicians office has conducted 78% of its visits virtually.

Telehealth makes it possible to give patients access to a variety of specialties and the opportunity to provide guidance early in any disease stage so that care plans can be promptly implemented. Equally important, it reduces people’s risk during the pandemic.

There is a correlation between the health of our people and the health of our regional economy. Just as the beauty of our region and opportunity attracted two neurosurgeons to our area, so too will high-quality healthcare and our extraordinary quality of life continue to attract other professionals.

It is reassuring that even as our healthcare professionals steer us safely through these uncharted waters, they continue to look ahead and make excellent decisions and significant investments necessary to care for our family and friends in the future.

I pray for our safety and security as we all ride the whitewater rapids of this pandemic. I remain extremely grateful to the entire Munson system for successfully guiding our community through the healthcare portion of the “COVID-19 white rapids.”

Connie Deneweth, CPA, is a developer and managing member of Copper Ridge; a former board member and vice chair of Munson Healthcare; current chairperson of the Munson Healthcare Audit Committee; co-chair of the Grand Traverse Area Catholic School capital campaign; and a board member of the Cherryland Cares Foundation and the Oleson Foundation. She is also a business development consultant at Independent Bank. Deneweth was the community bank president of Republic Bank from 1992-2000 and CEO/director of Traverse City State Bank from 2009-2018.