By Maggie Edwards
Partners from Auburn University (AU), Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), Alfa and Chambers County gathered in Lafayette April 21 to dedicate one of four OnMed Care Stations in the United States. The walk-up telemedicine booth promises to give rural residents access to health care, without traveling to the next county.
The technology in the OnMed Station, which changes the way patients visit doctors, will benefit thousands of rural citizens in Chambers County and surrounding areas.
Lafayette City Fire Chief and EMS Director Jim Doody said the need for this project came to light when the COVID-19 pandemic began, as there is not an urgent care or hospital nearby.
“The fire station lobby ended up becoming the de facto medical clinic. We knew we needed to improve our way of providing health care,” Doody said. “This has been blood, sweat and tears for the last three years.”
This new technology allows individuals to receive health care in minutes. A visit to the OnMed Station is quite simple: walk in, press start, get an exam and walk out. A clinician appears on the screen within seconds of entering the station, which resembles the size of an office cubicle. OnMed describes this virtual doctor visit as clean, private, accessible, affordable, secure and convenient.
OnMed is found inside the newly renovated Chambers County Community Health and Wellness Center, which is a rural health initiative with exam rooms, virtual health screening and more.
Doody said he hopes to see this type of health clinic in more rural communities.
“This can be done anywhere, but it benefits a lot of small towns,” he said. “The numbers of people who could be impacted are endless.”
OnMed – the anywhere health solution – is currently only in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas.
Chief Commercial Officer Howard Gruverman of OnMed described the health care station as a combination of innovation and traditional medicine.
“You get all kinds of technology, such as a drop-down stethoscope. We take your blood pressure, pulse, oxygen and weight. It can take thermography to see if you have an infection in your sinuses, or check your temperature,” said Gruverman. “We basically create a better patient experience as well as a better clinic experience.”
Gruverman praised their partnership with ACES and AU. The outstanding array of student nurses and pharmacists in Chambers County Community Health and Wellness Center are studying at AU.
Outreach Coordinator and AU College of Nursing professor Linda Gibson-Young said this is a win for AU and Chambers County.
“As a professor, we have undergraduate and graduate students we can bring into the community. We can connect them with other disciplines,” Gibson-Young said. “We can all work together to manage patients’ care using our expertise. Those students can now come into this environment and really connect with rural health.”
The building opens doors for individuals, families, patients, adults and the elderly to receive healthcare, she added.
“We can now provide care and education in the community – when it comes to health, when it comes to awareness and when it comes to other educations,” Gibson-Young said.
On a recent Alabama AgCast, local ACES agent Rachel Snoddy said they hope to recreate this model across the state and give more resources to other rural areas.
“People think of extension as only agriculture,” Snoddy said. “We have a lot of program areas, one being community development. Our goal is to improve lives and make our communities better.”
Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield, AU, ACES and local officials in Chambers County and the city of Lafayette to fund this first OnMed Care Station in Alabama.
“Our mission has always been to help folks in rural areas – whether that be in agriculture or family science,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan. “Health care is important. We need to bring this new technology to rural communities so they can get health care and the access they need.”