The Future of Tele-Respiratory Therapy

What is a Tele-RT and what can they do?

A Tele-Respiratory Therapist (Tele-RT) is a medical professional that provides remote treatment for patients with problems related to breathing. Tele-RTs work with patients who have chronic lung conditions such as COPD, ALS, bronchiectasis, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and asthma¹. Tele-RTs also provide acute care through working closely with onsite clinicians to assist with everything from pre-intubation equipment checks to ventilator management to post-intubation endotracheal tube placement. 

 

The Rise of Tele-RT during COVID-19

Even before the pandemic, many healthcare organizations were struggling to recruit and retain respiratory therapists. Some key factors driving these shortages include the retirement of RTs outpacing new growth, escalating burnout, and an increasing demand for respiratory care².

The COVID-19 emergency situation amplified these shortages due to a rapid increase in patients requiring advanced respiratory support such as high-flow oxygen, non-invasive ventilation, and invasive ventilation. For one medical center in New York City, during the first phase of the pandemic over 50% of patients testing positive for COVID-19 required hospitalization, and of those hospitalized, 23% required invasive ventilation³. The median length of a hospital stay for patients with critical illness was 36 days. The volume of patients combined with their prolonged stays created an extraordinary demand for intensive respiratory care.

In response to this unfolding situation, many organizations increased their reliance on tele-RTs to meet the increasing demand. For example, Penn Medicine launched an ad-hoc telemedicine respiratory therapist service that served seven hospitals and more than 320 critical care beds⁴. More than two years into the program, the organizers continue to see value in the tele-RT service line and feel more prepared for the next pandemic.

 

The Future of Tele-RT

Tele-RT services have been around for several years, but the pandemic has further illustrated the benefits of these programs. Tele-RT services not only allow for timely care when it matters the most, but also protect high-risk RT staff. Helping patients remotely eliminates the risk for the healthcare provider, so they can help the patient without being exposed to sickness themselves. In the case of Penn Medicine, the use of tele-RTs saved the organization nearly $120,000 between increased efficiency (freeing up bedside RTs for other tasks) and the costs saved from decreasing PPE utilization⁴. 

Furthermore, there are significant challenges that come with providing traditional respiratory care to patients in rural communities⁵. These patients have historically experienced disparities in access to care, and the current RT shortage across the country has only amplified the situation. This has created an urgent need for innovation. Through telemedicine, critical access hospitals can meet the needs of their communities by providing patients with access to specialty programs like Tele-RT. Beam Healthcare is able to initiate a new Tele-RT program in as little as two weeks, making it a seamless process for organizations in rural areas to tackle healthcare disparity and provide quality care⁶. 

Beam’s RT Team

David Vallejo 

Respiratory Journey

My respiratory journey started as a child struggling with asthma and bronchitis every winter. As a patient I began to learn how to manage my symptoms. When choosing a career path, I knew I wanted to help others who have a similar background to be able to help them live their best lives.

 

Chandni Zabiegala 

Respiratory Journey

I have had the pleasure of working as an RT for over 12 years in various settings such as hospital critical care units, DME, and now tele-medicine.

 

 

Kaylee Pletzer 

Respiratory Journey

I discovered the Respiratory Therapy field after being hospitalized and seeing an RT. After that I knew it was something I wanted to go to school for. I went to Northeast Iowa Community College and graduated in 2018. While I was in school I worked as a student therapist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and then a full-time therapist after graduation. And now I am now part of the Beam team!

 

Angela Hallmark

Respiratory Journey
I have been a Respiratory Therapist since 1994, working in various areas – critical care, short term rehab, NICU, adult and pediatric sleep, and telemedicine. 

 

Bree Smith

Respiratory Journey

I have been a Respiratory Therapist for 13 years. I have enjoyed working at teaching hospitals, pulmonary rehabs and in critical care in various states. My favorite aspect of Respiratory Therapy is the education component. My aim, as I continue to learn, is to be a valuable resource to the patients I serve and the team I work alongside with.

 

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