July 4, 2010

North Country Healthcare: Telemedicine is saving time, money for patients, providers

GREG HALES North Country HealthCare
Posted: Sunday, July 4, 2010 5:00 am

Telemedicine is allowing North Country HealthCare to expand its primary care services across a very large service area from Lake Havasu City on Arizona's California border to Springerville on the New Mexico border.

The technology makes it possible for patients to visit medical providers miles away via direct video conference links coupled with high tech instruments such as hand-held examination cameras or digital stethoscopes.

The telemedicine technology is saving time and money for patients as well as their medical providers. Steve McCrosky is a family nurse practitioner at North Country HealthCare, who lives in Flagstaff and practices two days a week in Winslow and two days a week in Flagstaff. Thanks to telemedicine, he has been able to open up his schedule so he can see patients from Winslow on the days he is in Flagstaff. The patients can get care delivered to them where they are when they need it, and Steve McCrosky can provide the service without getting in the car.

During a telemedicine visit a "telepresenter" such as a medical assistant or nurse sits in the exam room with the patient and acts as the doctor's hands and eyes. The telepresenter can use a camera with a close-up lens to look at a rash or a video otoscope to look inside the patient's ears, and the doctor can examine the patient in real time from miles away while carrying on a conversation with the patient. Patients and providers can establish positive relationships, which makes acceptance of the process high, especially if the patients are able to save time or gain access to services that would be otherwise hard to receive.

North Country HealthCare has registered with the FDA to do a formal research study to evaluate digital stethoscopes in telemedicine applications. Littmann Stethoscopes, marketed by the 3M Company, are among the world's oldest and most respected stethoscopes. Littman is now manufacturing FDA-approved digital stethoscopes that are able to amplify and record heart and lung sounds. The company has created software that allows these sounds to be heard over the internet in a telemedicine encounter. The research is designed to find out if the quality of the sound is equal or comparable to the sound you would hear if you were in the same room with the patient. Positive study results would support FDA approval of the telemedicine software.

North Country HealthCare is developing a telemedicine program that will allow a provider to see HIV patients across the system without driving hours to a remote location. Another program will bring specialists from Banner Health System to Flagstaff one or two days a month where they can see Hepatitis C patients by telemedicine at several North Country sites on the same day. North Country is already providing behavioral health care to remote sites through telemedicine and its pharmacy is gearing up to launch a "telepharmacy" program. In the future, North Country would like to use telemedicine to monitor frail elderly patients at home and reduce the frequency of readmissions to the hospital.

At a time when the health care system needs to provide better access to care at a lower cost, telemedicine has a great deal of potential to be part of the solution, especially in rural and undeserved areas.

Greg Hales is the program coordinator for telehealth at North Country HealthCare.

Posted in Columnists on Sunday, July 4, 2010 5:00 am Updated: 8:48 pm.


‘Bad blood’ victim takes campaign to Number 10

9:28am Sunday 4th July 2010

A VICTIM of the “bad blood” scandal has taken his fight for financial redress to Downing Street.

David Fielding, from Farnworth, was among some 4,500 haemophiliacs affected by the scandal in the 1970s and 1980s and needed a liver transplant after being given infected blood.

He joined other members of the national Haemophilia Society to deliver a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The campaigners have spent the past two decades fighting for compensation for victims.

In April, Labour announced it would look at the Skipton Fund, which compensates those who contracted Hepatitis C and the Haemophilia Society wants the Government to make the same commitment.

Mr Fielding said: “We had about 250 victims and their families down in London with us and six of us went to Downing Street with our MPs to deliver the letter and a wreath in memory of the 2,000 victims.

“It was important for us to do that and I will continue to fight, as I have done for the past 17 years.”

The 54-year-old, whose brother, Brian, died in 1990 at the age of 46 after being infected with HIV, also met up with Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi, who Mr Fielding hopes will continue the fight taken up by her predecessor Dr Brian Iddon.

The brothers were among 4,500 people affected by the scandal in the 1970s and 1980s. About 2,000 have now died as a result.

Mr Fielding said: “A lot of people are dying. At one time we were losing one a week, now it is about one a month. It is important that people who are still alive are coping with this infection.

“This Government and the past Government have had the money to put this to bed and compensate us, but it has still not happened.

“I don’t want to go to my grave and this not have been sorted out. I have been fighting for 17 years now and I am getting tired, worn out and angry.

“We have to start all over again with the new MPs to educate them about what happened.”

Following the scandal, a public inquiry by Lord Archer recommended better compensation for all victims and a committee to advise on haemophilia.

Attempts to get a Contaminated Blood Bill through Parliament, to implement all the recommendations, have so far failed.