During the tenure of Ryan Smith as administrator of Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James, the hospital has made many improvements, and Smith said they have no plans to stop innovating.

For example, MCHS is transitioning into more of a team-based approach to patient care, Smith said. A group comprised of medical professionals like a physician, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, dieticians, behavioral health specialists, and complex care coordinators unite to look at lists of patients and determine the best course of action for every one.

In many cases, a patient doesn’t need to see a physician for their case; they can have a satisfactory outcome by seeing or speaking with another member of the team, Smith said. Though they may have needed to wait for an appointment with a doctor in the past, they can see another member of the team more quickly, which makes the process more efficient.

The complex care coordinators are a new addition, and they’re a major part of the hospital’s new focus on treating individuals who have multiple chronic conditions and ameliorating their health, Smith said. The hospital is also working to eliminate unnecessary visits.

Expert RN, for example, is a 24-7 nurse call line, and patients can be talked through their symptoms by an on-call medical professional, Smith said. Certain conditions can even be diagnosed through this phone call, and medicines can be prescribed.

Of course, that patient’s care team is also then notified about the call, so they’re kept abreast of the updated situation, Smith said. It also costs the patients nothing.

There is also a clinic nurse line, which is different than Expert RN, Smith said. In this, the caller is transferred to a clinician who can answer questions and pull up records. This helpline addresses the 60-70 percent of patient complaints in the past that stemmed from “lack of access.”

Expert RN was launched in the latter part of 2013, and the clinic nurse line began roughly six months ago, said Micah Dorfner, a public affairs and marketing coordinator at MCHS. “It’s an ongoing process; these were soft launches.”

Another recent advance for the hospital has been the increased use of Telemedicine in the last 18 months, Smith said. In TeleStroke, for example, a patient who comes into the hospital here in St. James with stroke symptoms can communicate quickly with an on-call neurologist in Rochester. That neurologist can see the patient and the patient’s vital signs, and the patient can see the neurologist.

Quick response is especially paramount in stroke cases, Smith said, because stroke patients need clot-busting drugs as soon as possible, but those drugs are also very potent, so one better be sure the patient is in fact having a stroke. Having that face-to-face communication--even via computer screen--is pivotal in attenuating anxiety of both the patient and the patient’s family.

“Time is huge with a stroke,” Dorfner said. With the TeleStroke tool, a stroke patient doesn’t have to ride all the way to Mankato in an ambulance before getting the pivotal medicine.

Smith hopes that another Telemedicine advance, Tele-TCU, can be up and running by the end of this year. TCU stands for Transitional Care Units.

In the past, a patient would often need to see a specialist in Rochester for follow-up visits after having a major surgery; but, with this innovation, the patient can do that visit from a bed in St. James via computer screen, Smith said. This helps eliminate all that superfluous travel, and it goes without saying that the last thing people want after major surgery is a succession of road trips.

“We’re trying to deliver as much local care as we can,” Smith said. “We want to deliver that care with the same expectation people would have if they walked through the doors of our (flagship) Rochester location.”

For the rest of this story, please see this month's Medical Services Guide, a free insert in this week's print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.