Jackman paramedic using a telemedicine application on a FirstNet-enabled smartphone while tending to a patient

FirstNet enables telehealth in the inland island of Jackman, Maine

The Jackman, Maine region is known for i­ts outdoor sporting community and beautiful landscapes. Nestled among the Northwestern Mountains of Maine near the Canadian border, the Jackman region is surrounded by vast woodlands and over 60 lakes, rivers, and ponds. It’s the ideal spot for an outdoor adventurer, but can prove difficult if you need to get to a nearby hospital.

“Medical care in this community is a challenge because we are 50-75 miles away from the nearest emergency room or hospital,” said Alan Duplessis, who serves on the town selectboard. “So it's important that we do what we can here in Jackman to be able to treat people the best way we can.”

That’s why the community of Jackman has taken an innovative approach to providing emergency care quickly and efficiently. With the help of FirstNet, paramedics in Jackman can conduct telehealth sessions and treat residents at the local health clinic or in their homes, rather than transporting patients to a hospital over an hour away.

One health clinic serves all

The Jackman Community Health Center is the only health clinic in town. Originally designed as a hospital with a senior care facility in the 1960s, the clinic had to scale back its size and scope due to the high costs of running the facility in a remote region.

When the clinic looked like it might have to shut down, Penobscot Community Health Care stepped in to take over the clinic and ensure the community continued to receive the care needed. However, with only one doctor and a few medical assistants on site, the clinic struggled to provide the full-time care needed by the community. Before implementing telehealth, the clinic’s doctor and medical staff had to rotate being on call on nights and weekends. Per-diem providers filled in when needed. This wasn’t sustainable for the clinic or the community.

So, the community clinic and Penobscot Community Health Care worked with Dr. Jonnathan Busko, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at St. Joseph Hospital, and his team to launch a project to ensure 24/7 care for local residents and visitors to the region. The innovative program uses paramedics to provide urgent care after hours. The key was connecting the paramedics via telehealth to emergency room physicians at St. Joseph Hospital—over 100 miles away.

After careful evaluation, the community decided to build its telehealth program with FirstNet—the nationwide public safety broadband network. They selected FirstNet to ensure paramedics would have a strong, reliable connection—whether treating a patient in the field, at the clinic, or en route to the hospital.

“This is new, this is innovative,” said Rick Petrie, who is chief operating officer of North East Mobile Health Services, the local EMS company staffing the clinic. “Paramedics establish a telehealth connection with an emergency room physician at St. Joseph’s, and they work collaboratively together to care for the patient and get them what they need.”

Telehealth enhances patient care

Through telehealth, paramedics in the room with the patient can share EKG results, up-close video shots of injuries, and other data to help the physician remotely evaluate the situation.

“Being able to interface with the physician—to take that information and send it securely to the physician so they can see the assessment in the field—it’s the foundation of what we're doing here,” said Caleb Frati, a paramedic with North East Mobile Health Services who works at the Jackman clinic.

Paramedics have treated patients at the clinic for complaints such as earaches, wounds, and even heart attacks. When necessary, patients are sent by ambulance for an in-person ER visit. Other times, patients are treated and released after the telehealth consultation.

FirstNet supports telehealth

Telehealth requires a reliable connection between the paramedic and the emergency physician. FirstNet has unique capabilities to support telehealth because of the reliability, speed, and security of the network.

“The fact that a patient can go to the health center and meet with a paramedic who can connect with all kinds of medical professionals through telehealth and FirstNet—it’s just phenomenal,” said Chief Bill Jarvis of the Jackman-Moose River Fire and Rescue Department.

Connecting rural America has always been a top priority for FirstNet. The network was built to provide connectivity where public safety needs it most, especially in remote areas without reliable service. Across Maine, FirstNet has launched new cellular sites to boost coverage and capacity for public safety officials.

“Paramedics have phones and tablets that use FirstNet to communicate, which is important because the internet and cell service here is very spotty,” said Dr. Patricia Doyle, who is a family physician and medical director at the Jackman Community Health Center.

With this reliable broadband connection, paramedics in Jackman are able to seamlessly share data with St. Joseph Hospital staff in Bangor. All are equipped with FirstNet-powered devices that ensure the safe, secure transfer of medical data. FirstNet has also greatly improved indoor coverage within the Jackman Community Health Center to ensure staff have the broadband connection needed to support livestreaming video and other data exchanges.

Keeping the community together

FirstNet-enabled telehealth is providing much-needed after-hours healthcare for Jackman residents. Beyond diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses, telehealth may be playing an even more important role in the community.

“Without easy access to healthcare, communities don't hold together,” said Dr. Busko. “As financial, operational, and staffing pressures have fallen on the Jackman Clinic, they've created access for patients to maintain what's necessary to hold the community together.”

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