January 14, 2019

Carol Wolfenbarger: Mission Hospital McDowell on the Cutting Edge of Telehealth

By Carol Wolfenbarger
President, Mission Hospital McDowell

As you step into 2019 looking forward to great accomplishments, so too is Mission Hospital McDowell (MHM) thrilled to enter an exciting new era of caring for you! The healthcare delivery advance that will fuel the most change is unquestionably telehealth – the use of telecommunication devices and monitoring to improve both access to care and health outcomes. Telemedicine falls under the larger telehealth umbrella, and it represents a truly momentous shift in acute care delivery, most notably for rural healthcare settings like ours. Similar to Amazon and Google in their respective industries, this innovation will cause historic – and positive – disruption in the healthcare industry.

With Mission Health on the cutting edge of healthcare delivery models, MHM is already using telehealth for patient care. We now have three hard-wired patient rooms and have implemented sophisticated “Smart Rooms” within the Birthing Suites in our new facility. Hardwiring a patient room with telehealth equipment includes using the already-installed TV screen, but supplementing it with features like a video camera. This enables patients to consult with remote clinicians and specialists on their treatment plans, follow-up care or medication regimens, as well as to receive customized patient education – but from a distant site, whether that’s another part of the hospital or a different facility entirely. Currently served by telehealth robots in the emergency department (ED), future plans include hard-wiring two of our behavioral health rooms in our ED to ensure ready access to mental health counseling and treatment.

“Smart Room” capabilities also greatly impact patient safety by incorporating technology that reads the badge of every caregiver as they enter the room, and projects the staff member’s picture, name and title on the monitor screen. All of our Birthing Suites are “Smart Rooms,” so our new parents receive an extra measure of security with this new safety feature. Smart Room technology also provides new parents with educational videos on how to care for their newborn and once reviewed, automatically documents the education in the patient’s electronic medical record.

Beyond our new Smart Rooms, our telemedicine “robot” is nothing short of amazing. This virtual care partner is mobile and allows a clinician to “beam in” to treat anyone in any location within the hospital, from stroke patients and those in need of hospitalist services to patients requiring behavioral health consults. Telehospitalists have been available at MHM since 2017 and provide overnight monitoring, care and interventions for our admitted patients. This innovation represents a very sustainable model of healthcare delivery that’s a true game changer for rural, community hospitals – bringing services and capabilities to the bedside that were previously available only in larger, metropolitan areas.

Continued development of telehealth services will increase access to sub-specialty care and enhance our ability to monitor chronic disease. In the future, a patient with heart failure will be able to access sub-specialty services from a location in McDowell County or even perhaps from their home, to help them manage their disease. Currently, our ED utilizes a tele-triage care model during times of high patient census, to effectively impact patient access to a medical screening exam and initiate treatment.

As we enter cold and flu season, our Mission Virtual Clinic provides patients – from the comfort of their own homes – access to a physician for routine illnesses. This service is available from 7 am to 11 pm, and you can use it by going to missionhealth.org/virtual-clinic on your computer, table to phone.

As Mission Hospital McDowell navigates the monumental changes happening in healthcare delivery, know that we are positioning ourselves to connect you to care that is convenient, in order to save you time, energy and dollars. We are thrilled to offer our current telehealth services to our patients, and look forward to what the future holds for healthcare innovation to better serve you.


Carol Wolfenbarger, MSN, RN, FACHE, is President of Mission Hospital McDowell. She holds both Bachelors and Masters of Science degrees in nursing administration from the University of Tennessee, is board certified in Healthcare Management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). Carol, who has served hospitals and health systems for more than three decades, has worked to add full-time cardiology services, led growth in outpatient services including imaging and surgery, and the expansion of primary care offering in Burke County since assuming her role as President at McDowell Hospital in 2015. She is an active member in Rotary and serves as a Board member for the Rutherford/Polk/McDowell Health District Board of Directors, the Corpening YMCA Board of Directors, and the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

To learn more about Mission Hospital McDowell, visit missionhealth.org/mcdowell.