A major difference between GlobalMed and other telehealth vendors is the way our products fit so well into providers’ needs. That’s because our team brings hands-on clinical experience to our product design and development – and no one is a better example of that than our Chief Clinical Officer, Gigi Sorenson.
While many GlobalMed executives come from the military, technology and international business, Sorenson’s telemedicine background makes her one of the most fascinating and multi-talented leaders at GlobalMed. She’s launched virtual programs for remote patient monitoring, pre-hospitalization, Direct-to-Consumer, outpatient care delivery, transitional planning and inpatient acute care. She also regularly travels to places like Africa, Mexico and Haiti to bring healthcare to those who need it most.
Baptism by Fire
Sorenson didn’t intend to have a career in telemedicine. Before joining GlobalMed, she was the System Director of Telehealth & Community Connected Care for Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) in Flagstaff, Arizona. “I was leading the cardiovascular services line when the CEO came to me and said, ‘I heard telemedicine is the new biggest thing – go figure it out,’” she recalled. “So I Googled it. Two weeks later I went to the American Telemedicine Association meeting. I was completely in over my head – but I decided to make a go of it.”
That included creating a telestroke program in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. “We used a hub and spoke model with Mayo consultants, providers at NAH, Flagstaff and Verde Valley Medical Centers and Sedona Medical Center. Patients in Tuba City on the Navajo Reservation could connect to Mayo without needing to travel six plus hours to Phoenix and back. Or they could connect to NAH without leaving Tuba City.”
The program yielded benefits like faster care, cost savings, cost avoidance and patient satisfaction – and unexpected advantages. “The stroke program helped us recruit three neurologists, including the top two graduates of Mayo’s neurology department. It turned out no one wanted to be the only neurologist in Flagstaff but being able to count on Mayo’s support changed that.”
Sorenson had gone through a crash course in telemedicine and emerged with considerable expertise. She began setting up adult specialty clinics in rheumatology, gastroenterology, cardiology and movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Her NAH team also launched virtual post-op visits for open heart surgery patients and support groups for bariatric surgery.
“Using a mix of internal and outside providers, we’d connect distant sites to NAH or other distant hospitals,” she said. “For instance, Phoenix Children’s Hospital saw our pediatric patients so the children and their parents didn’t have to travel to Phoenix for care.”
Saving Lives with Telemedicine
Sorenson’s team began spotting innovative new ways to apply connected care. “We found that with our donor network, counselors couldn’t get up Interstate 17 to Flagstaff in the winter and we’d lose organs. Telemedicine let counselors have the right conversations with organ donors, recipients and families so we could move forward faster.”
The telemedicine program also made great strides in behavioral health and suicide prevention.
“We started doing suicide screens using telemedicine stations in the PCP’s office instead of sending a patient in crisis to the emergency department,” Sorenson said. “It was just three blocks away but one patient had completed suicide on the way there. By integrating primary care and behavioral health, we made it possible for patients to see therapists while they were still in their PCP’s office.”
Sorenson’s team also developed a program that earned national recognition: Care Beyond Walls and Wires™. Through remote patient monitoring, the program focused on patients suffering from chronic disease in rural communities and remote Native American reservations. Over a six-month period, readmissions dropped by 44 percent, patients were hospitalized 64 percent fewer days, and hospital charges reduced by $92,000 per patient.
Joining the GlobalMed Mission
To finance many of her telemedicine programs, Sorenson applied for multiple USDA grants – and used the funds to buy GlobalMed solutions.
“I chose GlobalMed because I was such a neophyte,” she said. “I needed someone close by – I didn’t want to wait weeks to be able to see a rep. And the GlobalMed team was very flexible, very willing to assist. So we developed a long-term partnership.”
That partnership eventually led to an invitation from GlobalMed CEO and founder Joel E. Barthelemy to join the GlobalMed mission. “It was a real honor to guide product development from a clinical perspective. I was at a point in my career where you don’t often get the opportunity to expand your skillset. But you’re never too advanced to try something new that you’re passionate about – and starting a completely different chapter in my life was exciting.”
Transforming Healthcare in Haiti
Today Sorenson is recognized as an industry superstar. She’s an active member of both the American Telemedicine Association and the Arizona Telemedicine Council; at GlobalMed, she oversees clinical integration and the strategic planning and operational implementation of customer telemedicine programs.
She also regularly does short-term missionary work in Mexico, Africa and other locales, often with GlobalMed solutions. “Part of GlobalMed’s activity is philanthropically driven. We’re not always about the next giant sale. We focus on impacting lives.”
Recently her efforts took her to Haiti, where she worked with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to empower Haitian communities through healthcare, agriculture and literacy. Sorenson took GlobalMed’s Transportable Exam Station unit to a clinic held three hours up a remote mountain road. She also took one of GlobalMed’s new telemedicine backpack units to Haiti for concept validation.
Sorenson educated the clinic staff on telemedicine and helped them provide care to a range of patients. “We saw HIV, cholera, typhoid and severe hypertension,” she said. “We also saw pregnant women getting ready to deliver who’d had no prenatal care whatsoever. So we did ultrasounds, listened to fetal heart sounds and checked the mothers’ blood pressure.”
The medical staff were enthusiastic about the technology – and despite being in a remote part of Haiti, word of mouth traveled quickly. When Sorenson’s team got back into town, they found three surgeons from Port au Prince waiting for them. After a demo, the surgeons told her, “This is what we need in our schools to teach and share.”
The program’s goal is to not only roll out stronger healthcare resources in Haiti but help the entire region. “If a Caribbean neighbor is hit with an earthquake or hurricane, Haiti can stand up and use their knowledge, tools and infrastructure to provide medical care to those residents. It’s so exciting for GlobalMed to be part of this.”
The Inevitable Ascent of Virtual Care
Sorenson has several pieces of advice for telemedicine providers. One is to understand pain points and stay patient-centric. “You’ll partner with IT, but you have to approach it from clinical perspective, not a technology perspective,” she says. “Listen and ask questions so you know what to solve, even if you think you’re the expert.” She also recommends starting small and staying focused. “Start too big and you won’t see the impact you made. Look at the tidal pool, not the ocean, so you can see the change.”
On an industry level, Sorenson believes that change is inevitable. “Virtual care is becoming the norm,” she said. “Soon it won’t be tele-this or e-that, but just another option for care delivery that’s totally accepted across ages, cultures and locations.”