Editor’s note: National Rural Health Day is Nov. 21, 2019. Throughout the month, we are sharing stories to highlight the challenges and good work being done to improve health care in rural America. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of the West Carolina Tel Connected.
The communication and information needs around medicine are evolving as quickly as medicine itself. Keeping up locally with those needs is the job of Abbeville Area Medical Center Information Technology Director Tim Stewart and the WCTEL Business Solutions department.
Stewart says the hospital has grown to depend on the WCTEL Business Solutions department as those needs change.
“There are a lot of security issues specific to health care that require a really high degree of attention to detail and compliance to regulations, and WCTEL really helps us,” Stewart says. “That’s a critical part of it for us.”
The medical center, which celebrates its 100th birthday on May 18, is one of WCTEL’s largest enterprise customers, along with the Abbeville County School District. But the hospital and its connected offices and clinics present WCTEL with some unique challenges beyond sheer size.
Stewart says the role of his department continues to evolve with the needs of modern medicine. “The IT part of it gets more and more complex because of the demand for information,” he says. “Before, IT was kind of ancillary to the medical process, and now it’s integrated into everything.”
Changes include areas like telemedicine, which depends on high-speed fiber internet connections, as well as the accessibility and security of electronic medical records. “It’s kind of a paradox because we have to make things secure and in compliance with regulations, but we also have to make things available to people — to doctors and to patients who want 24/7 access to that information,” Stewart says. “WCTEL is really a critical partner in doing that to help us keep up with the technology and understand how it works.”
The extra step
WCTEL Director of Business Solutions and Network Operations Chuck Nash says the job with enterprise customers like the Abbeville Medical Center goes well beyond installations and fixes.
“It does present some different challenges but no hurdles we can’t cross,” Nash says. “Our biggest challenge with enterprise customers is trying to work with them on a more strategic planning level. We will help them all the way down to a granular level, but we try to help with strategic planning and budgeting, and we can be an extension to their existing IT departments.”
WCTEL provides most, if not all, of the medical center’s communications infrastructure, such as wireless, high-speed fiber internet in the hospitals and clinics, as well as phone systems in most locations.
But it only starts there, Stewart says.
“WCTEL gives us some of the specialized tech support that we need,” he says. “If we get stuck on a particular issue in the IT department, we can call on WCTEL to help. Most recently, we’ve worked with them to do an IT security assessment of our systems here.
“With a lot of tech companies, we’d be a pretty small player on a national level, and we wouldn’t often get the priority service we need, but WCTEL is a local partner, and they’re quick to respond. They understand how critical this is here.”