Acute respiratory failure is a serious, life-threatening condition that usually requires the patient to be admitted to an intensive care unit. Here, medical professionals administer a variety of treatments to help the patient’s lungs rest and heal. Respiratory therapists (RTs) greatly impact the quality of care these patients receive, but over the past three years there has been a significant RT shortage.¹
This shortage was exasperated by the pandemic, and the effects are still being felt by healthcare organizations across the country. Some other drivers of the shortage include growing incidences of respiratory disorders, decreasing participation in educational programs, and provider burnout. Some RTs have decided the leave the profession, and others gave up their full-time jobs to join more lucrative traveling respiratory teams that were hired to provide care for patients across the nation.²
Our founder, Dr. Patel, started Beam Healthcare in the Critical Access Hospital sector and understands the need to create viable and sustainable hospitalist and specialty programs to meet the needs of the community and avoid patient transfers. Beam’s Tele-RT’s collaborate with onsite nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists to provide comprehensive care to patients experiencing conditions like respiratory failure.
Responding to Respiratory Failure
At Upland Hills Health, one of the critical access hospitals that Beam Healthcare serves, a 69 year-old patient presented in the emergency room with shortness of breath. He was quickly diagnosed with hypoxemic respiratory failure, likely due to community acquired pneumonia. A chest CT was ordered, confirming pneumonia with almost entire left lung involvement. While in the emergency department, onsite respiratory therapists worked quickly to place the patient on high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) therapy delivered at 50 liters per minute. Then, to begin fighting the infection, the patient was started on two antibiotics: azithromycin and ceftriaxone.
Shortly after, the patient was admitted to the ICU. Here the onsite respiratory therapist screened the patient and recommended aggressive pulmonary hygiene, including use of an Aerobika device to help the patient mobilize excess lung secretions and breathe easier. The therapist also recommended scheduled nebulizers and continued HFNC therapy. The team considered BiPAP therapy, but ultimately decided against it due to the patient’s confused state and facial hair which would have impacted the seal of a BiPAP mask. Respiratory therapists closely monitored the patient’s progress while on HFNC therapy. The team was measuring and adjusting levels as needed and ready to proceed with endotracheal intubation if his condition was worsening.
Eight hours later, as the patient’s condition continued to improve, the onsite registered nurse monitoring the patient was able to reach out to a Beam Healthcare Tele-Respiratory Therapist with questions regarding weaning the patient off high-flow oxygen therapy. The Tele-RT guided the nurse through the process and the patient was weaned to room air by the following day.
Respiratory Therapists are in Short Supply
Angela Hallmark, Respiratory Therapy Lead at Beam Healthcare, said “It was my pleasure to assist the RN when she had questions regarding weaning the highflow device. With just a quick call, I was able to provide guidance and comfort to the RN as well as excellent care for the patient.”
Providers’ time is limited during inpatient stays, and the opportunity to utilize Beam’s telemedicine services in conjunction with their onsite providers allowed Upland Hills Health to maximize efficiency and provide the best care possible to all of their patients.
The RT shortage has had a disproportionate impact on critical access hospitals, and as a result, patients like this often need to be transferred to an outside larger hospital to get the care they need. However, Beam Tele-RT offers a financially viable solution for facilities to provide specialized care locally. This lowers healthcare obstacles for patients, enabling them to get excellent, high-quality treatment closer to home. Kaylee Pletzer, RT at Beam, said “I like working for Beam because I think it’s an amazing opportunity for critical access hospitals. Sometimes we all just need to phone a friend, and that’s when tele-health is a great resource.”
Beam’s Telemedicine Solutions
Beam Healthcare’s Tele-RT team works with your organization to develop a customized plan catered to your needs. Our Tele-RTs provide comprehensive support to your nursing staff and providers so they feel confident in meeting the respiratory needs of each patient.
We are ready to assist your organization and give you peace of mind that you will have the resources to provide excellent patient care in day-to-day operations as well as unexpected circumstances. This ultimately allows patients in rural communities to receive the specialty care they deserve, while allowing local hospitals to reduce patient transfers to outside organizations.