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Gillette Children's increasing access to care in Greater Minnesota

Gillette has seven clinics around the state, including one in Alexandria, and treats children with complex medical conditions, including brain, bone and movement disorders.

Andrea Paulson
Andrea Paulson
Contributed photo

ALEXANDRIA — Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare is expanding access to virtual visits and virtual rehabilitation services as well as increasing access to providers at its Greater Minnesota clinics in 2022.

There are several reasons for the move, including decreasing possible exposure to COVID and convenience for families that have to travel long distances for treatment, according to Gillette leaders.

Gillette has seven clinics around the state, including one in Alexandria, and treats children with complex medical conditions, including brain, bone and movement disorders.

"Right now we provide physical medicine and rehab, orthopedics and complex care around the state, and we're working on increasing access through virtual options, both for physicians as well as for therapy," said Dr. Andrea Paulson, associate medical director for Greater Minnesota.

In 2021, Gillette served 4,107 unique patients in 11,562 virtual visits, including 3,371 rehabilitation virtual visits, according to a news release. Gillette also served patients virtually from more than 17 other states and three countries.

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Gillette's virtual rehab program was also recognized by the International Hospital Federation and the World Health Organization.

Paulson, an Alexandria native, said the virtual physician visits are similar to what would take place in the office.

"You go through all the questions, the history, you make sure you understand what the concerns are," Paulson said. "You do what you can from an exam standpoint. You can look at range of motion, you can look at strength, you can watch them walk, other movement patterns. Kind of depending on the reason for the visit will help guide the exam that we're doing.

"Of course there's some limitations with the camera-only, but we've gotten pretty good at minimizing those," she said.

Virtual therapy visits start with a therapy evaluation, Paulson said.

"From there, the therapist can assess with a lot of formal measures if the patient would benefit from ongoing therapies," she said.

The benefit of being virtual is that the therapist can see the home or environment of the child, she said.

"So if you're thinking about a bath or shower chair, you can actually see the space," Paulson said. "(Equipment) can be really helpful to do virtually, because then you get to know where it's going to be used, instead of that artificial environment of the clinic setting."

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Being virtual also allows the therapists to make real-time adjustments based on how the patient is responding.

"The therapists are great," Paulson said. "They've really kind of figured out how to engage patients and be really structured and high-yield from that standpoint."

The expansion of virtual care has been going well overall, she said.

"Everybody knows Minnesota and Greater Minnesota in winter, so I think even without COVID it was a necessary move," Paulson said. "Our kids are fragile, and a lot of them need multiple appointments, so this allows them to not miss as much school, and not miss as much work for families.

"The goal is really just to keep the kid at home or in the community," she said.

Collaboration between Gillette and the physicians at all of its sites, as well as other physician and therapy groups in town, have helped enable this to happen, Paulson said.

"A lot of times our kids will do kind of hybrid stuff," she said. "Most of their therapy sessions will be local if that's an option, and then they might just do intermittent ones at Gillette or virtually to kind of fill in."

Gillette wants virtual care to be something they keep expanding, Paulson said.

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"The goal isn't just to come into the community quick, do something and then be gone," she said. "We want to stay and be a presence long-term, so we're trying to do that in a way that assesses the needs that are there and making sure we're meeting them appropriately."

Paulson said it's been fun listening to parents again, " just talking about how much of a difference it's made in their lives and their kids' lives."

With the virtual appointments, the parents miss less work and the kids miss less school and have more time with their friends, she said.

"We've had really positive feedback," she said. "Of course, it's not going to work for everybody. We're just trying to be as comprehensive as we can and offer as many versions as we can to meet everybody's needs.

"Virtual care is here to stay, and we're just going to keep getting better at providing it," she said.

Gillette is one of a few pediatric specialty programs in Minnesota that is accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities to meet the needs of young children and adolescents seeking acute inpatient rehabilitation. It is also one of less than 10 United States pediatric inpatient rehabilitation facilities to have CARF accreditation for both pediatric specialty and pediatric brain injury programs.

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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