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Alyssa Robinson, Nurse Project Manager for e-Link at the University of Arkansas for Medicine Sciences’ (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health and Innovation (IDHI).

COVID-19 Featured Health

Alyssa Robinson, Nurse Project Manager for e-Link at the University of Arkansas for Medicine Sciences’ (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health and Innovation (IDHI).


As the nation enters into a post-pandemic era following three years of remote living and the six-foot rule of separation, healthcare is evolving unlike any other time in modern medicine. Telemedicine. That’s the big ticket. That’s the ultimate game changer, according to Alyssa Robinson, Nurse Project Manager for e-Link at the University of Arkansas for Medicine Sciences’ (UAMS) Institute for Digital Health and Innovation (IDHI). “Telemedicine is the future of healthcare,” said Robinson. “All eyes are on telehealth, and if it isn’t it should be.”

Tucked away on the 5th floor of the UAMS Central Building, Robinson and a team of next-generation healthcare professionals are making use of phone, video, internet, and technology to deliver long-distance clinical health care, implement telemedicine across the state, as well as provide telemedicine modules that provide education on what it is and its benefits. Much to the surprise of many, Robinson said digitally delivered treatment can be as diverse as in-person treatment. The most straightforward approach is a one on-one session between a healthcare provider and a client via a HIPAA-compliant, secure teleconference platform called the e-Link Portal.

On the other end of the scale, the National Institutes of Health is now conducting research on the role of telehealth in delivering cancer-related health care, a practice that became more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. At UAMS, IDHI has provided digital health across the state for more than 20 years. The High-Risk Pregnancy Program, previously known as ANGELS, began in 2003 and was the institute’s first telemedicine program in Arkansas. Other programs were developed after with many in the spotlight during the pandemic as the nation went into COVID19-induced hibernation for most of 2020 and 2021.

“Telemedicine at the beginning of COVID became an important component in healthcare as a means for providers to connect with their patients,” said Robinson. “We were witnessing, for example, some clinics having to close their doors due to staff shortages because they were becoming ill with COVID, ICUs and emergency rooms filling up with patients as well.”

As the state’s largest public employer with more than 11,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians, UAMS has regional campuses and clinics across the state that reach into rural Arkansas without hospitals or adequate medical facilities. At IDHI, Robinson said there is a wide range of telemedicine programs to meet the needs of patients where they are located, including the newest program called HealthNow.

HealthNow offers HIPAA compliant, secure virtual Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN)-driven urgent care for patients who may have come down with an unexpected sickness or minor injury but don’t have immediate access to a doctor or healthcare clinic. This statewide virtual program was instrumental after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in early 2020.

“HealthNow is utilized across the state to connect Arkansans with APRNs, and is available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the patient can connect to them virtually,” said Robinson.“

The role of a telemedicine educator and trainer is very rewarding. It is the future of healthcare, and I am glad to help connect those in need with quality healthcare from wherever they are, when they need it most. Digital health is on the cutting edge of healthcare, and it is exciting to be able to be part of such a dynamic team here at IDHI and reach Arkansans with our services,” said Robinson, who lives in Little Rock with her husband, Ray, and daughter, Alice. UAMS’ IDHI is led by the director and Chief Informatics Officer Dr. Joseph Sanford and Dr. Kevin Sexton, a surgeon and associate director.

They oversee nearly two dozen telemedicine programs that offer a wide range of clinical, research, educational and support services. In her role, Robinson travels across the state to promote telemedicine to rural doctors and healthcare providers interested in implementing or expanding their virtual health services. She also noted that innovative technologies and improved broadband access are advancing telemedicine daily into new clinical care and research areas.

Robinson shared how access to care with telemedicine is spread across the state in the emergency departments (ED) equipped with carts that connect rural hospitals with healthcare teams to save lives. On a recent visit to a Camden ED, Robinson witnessed the benefits of the telemedicine cart when an elderly patient who was admitted there received life-saving stroke treatment. “The patient was brought in via ambulance to that rural hospital’s ED, and this site’s ED team did an outstanding job as soon as the patient arrived. They initiated a stroke call via the cart that connected the patient to the UAMS Stroke program team who was at a distant site,” said Robinson.

“This patient did not have to be transported to a hospital that was hours away. Having the access to her nearest hospital that was equipped with a stroke cart resulted in a positive patient outcome.” Robinson holds a bachelor’s in nursing and has been a member of the IDHI e-Link team for four years. Noting that she is a legacy nurse whose grandmother was also in the profession, the UAMS project manager has worked across several practice areas and held many distinct roles in her career.

For example, Robinson trains clinical teams interested in telemedicine on digital peripheral and remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices that can be utilized when patients need help managing their health condition. She said RPM devices include digital stethoscopes, weight scales, glucometers and blood pressure cuffs that can transmit health data virtually from a patient’s home to their healthcare team managing their diagnosis. “It is so exciting to showcase peripheral devices to physicians, nurses, and their team that the IDHI clinical team recommends.

When the professionals see our recommendations, they are in awe, said Robinson. “Here at IDHI we are helping to save lives. We are physically helping organizations help their patient population manage their health conditions, as well as decreasing patient readmissions to the hospital, and becoming frequent visitors to the EDs because of mismanagement of their health diagnosis.”

And as broadband access improves in rural areas without high-speed internet, IDHI has a team that deals with state grants funding to internet service providers. Under the program started by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas has issued out 163 grants for over $393 million to improve internet connectivity in Arkansas. Another $330 million in funding will reach 210,000 households. “That’s a challenge in rural areas of the state. Broadband connectivity. Many people or sites don’t have it,” Robinson said of rural Arkansas,”

The registered nurse also said telemedicine is a way to reach Black patients who are wary of the medical system. This mistrust is caused by historically unethical medical treatments and dismissal of health concerns that Black patients express to healthcare providers. The Little Rock nurse noted that telemedicine is increasingly becoming a ‘game-changer” for Black men who are traditionally distrustful of the medical field. “Having men pick up the phone and making an appointment is a challenge within itself. I know because I have had to encourage my own family members to see their doctors,” said Robinson. “When telemedicine became a service offered from their doctors, they were more inclined to call in about health questions or be seen for a condition that could be treated virtually. This access to care is reaching everyone and it is my hope it continues to grow” For more information about the Institute for Digital Health & Innovation (IDHI) please visit https://idhi.uams.edu/


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