While virtual doctors’ visits are a new experience for many, Deborah Burton, MA, has spent the last 25 years connecting patients to vital care by virtual means. As market director of virtual care at CHI Saint Joseph Health, Burton played a leading role during the COVID-19 pandemic when the need for telemedicine was at its greatest.
“Telehealth services evolved more in one year than in the last 25 years because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burton said. “The pandemic increased our focus on specialty consultations between hospitals and quickly ramped up telehealth services in our primary care clinics.”
Before the pandemic, telemedicine services developed slowly according to departmental needs, physician champions or a specific research focus.
Telehealth has made strides in accessibility since in the 1960s when telehealth used satellites and telephone lines to assist in surgery and consultations. The Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation recently received a grant that will help to expand the service even more in rural communities. Burton will oversee that expansion.
“It is very exciting to get this grant funding because it will give us the means to purchase the technology we need to enhance our communications between our hospitals, primary care clinics and home health agencies, and expand our telehealth services along a continuum of care from hospital to home,” Burton said.
Burton provides support to physicians, diabetes educators, nutritional counselors, physical therapists, pharmacists, behavioral specialists and others. She also helps patients access providers.
“It’s very rewarding and exciting,” she said.
Burton started at CHI Saint Joseph Health in 2010 as the telehealth program manager. With 25 years of experience in telehealth, Burton said her career in health care communications technologies started in college when she worked as a research assistant on a telehealth federal grant program.
“I had known that communications technology could be a huge benefit to patients and providers and wanted to help in this area. But the only person I had heard of [at the time] was Dr. Michael DeBakey of Baylor College of Medicine, who was doing transatlantic surgery through telecommunications lines,” Burton said.
Since implementing virtual care on a massive scale at the beginning of the pandemic, Burton said she’s most enjoyed collaborating with colleagues who share her goal of bringing health care to anyone, anywhere.
“I am so blessed to work with so many dedicated people, especially those who embrace the challenge to try something new,” Burton said. “One of my great joys now is collaborating with colleagues in establishing a focus on virtual care.”