ST. CLOUD -- A local medical technology startup hopes to bring relief to overworked rural doctors using intricate video technology.

Horizon Virtual, a recent recipient of a Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation Innovation Award, currently offers a remote, on-call doctor for the Long Prairie Hospital from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.

Dr. Darin Willardsen, one of Horizon's founders and a CentraCare internal medicine doctor, says small hospitals like Long Prairie have limited staffing, and doctors can easily become overworked and exhausted being on call every night.

As CentraCare practitioners, Dr. Willardsen and Horizon co-founder, Dr. Todd Severnak, were often sent to Long Prairie to fill in during the overnight hours.

Those hour-long trips to the small hospital got the wheels turning.

 

"We thought, 'I think we can do this better, I think we can do this more efficiently, and I think we can provide care to many places with one person, instead of one person traveling and not working to their full potential. And so, we said, 'what if we're there virtually? Then we can cover four or five hospitals at one time."

Enter Horizon Virtual. The tools include carts with digitally-enabled medical devices like stethoscopes and ophthalmoscopes, placed on the patient by a trained nurse. Then, the remote doctor, either Willardsen or Severnak, is able to listen with headphones while examining the patient visually through a high-resolution, HIPAA-compliant portable camera.

Horizon virtual is one of just 3 or 4 telemedicine companies in the United States capable of admitting patients into a hospital and prescribing medications remotely.

Willardsen says, so far, they've heard positive reviews.

"Nurses seem to be loving it, because there's someone on call within minutes. And, we get to keep sicker patients at those hospitals, so they get to see acute cases. The doctors tend to love it because they can sleep all night. They're typically in the clinic all day, and then they have to cover at night. Granted, they're not always busy, but when they are, there goes their sleep."

Willardsen says they've seen over 60 patients since they partnered with Long Prairie. Thanks to a remote exam, around 20 patients have been admitted to the Long Prairie Hospital in the last six months, patients who otherwise would have been sent to St. Cloud for care.

Willardsen says, keeping patients at their hometown hospitals makes it easier for friends and family to be part of the recovery process.

"We can't find a down side," says Willardson.

Horizon Virtual plans to expand services to clinics in other parts of Minnesota, as well as North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.