Prairie Community Hospital offers patients telemedicine service

 By Kay Braddock

Consider the following scenario. After completing a routine check-up with one of Prairie Community Hospital’s physician assistants, that included lab work and needed radiology imaging, you’re told a visit with a specialist is required. Up until now, all of your medical needs had been completed at your community hospital, meaning less travel time and more convenience for you the patient.
But now the outcome of the visit with your local practitioner leaves you with a 360-mile round-trip appointment to see a doctor. Beyond the concern of what the upcoming appointment will involve, many patients are left figuring out travel options. 
Wouldn’t it be easier to see the specialist without having to leave your hometown?
That is exactly the solution the telemedicine service offers its patients, according to Prairie Community Hospital Administrator Parker Powell. It’s a service PCH began offering last month.
“They developed this for smaller communities,” Powell said, pointing out the convenience telemedicine offers both patients and doctors, particularly those patients who are elderly.
The telemedicine service was set up at PCH through a grant provided by the Montana Health Network, a consortium of health care providers located across the state.
The Eastern Montana Telemedicine Network began nearly two decades ago as a cooperative effort between Billings Clinic and five rural healthcare facilities in eastern Montana. Today the network reaches into 19 communities throughout eastern and central Montana and northern Wyoming. As time has passed and technological advances made, the service has continued to improve. 
Through telemedicine doctors located in Billings and as far away as Salt Lake City and beyond can be connected with patients locally, Powell said.
A room at Prairie Community Clinic has been set up with a monitor, camera and high definition digital stethoscope to allow the transmission of real-time video, audio and medical images between the patient and “visiting” doctor. The patient can sit alone in the room or ask to have a physician assistant or nurse on hand to assist with the visit.
Because T1 lines allow transmission of radiology images, “visiting” doctors are provided with the same accurate and relevant information that they would have if physically sharing the room with the patient. 
The digital stethoscope used in telemedicine also offers accurate readings and according to Larry Masterson, PA-C it is “a much better instrument,” than typical stethoscopes used.
Specialty areas typically served through telemedicine include cardiology, neurology, diabetes education, surgical follow-up and infectious disease.
Masterson who recently arrived to PCH from Scobey says the service was regularly used at Daniels Memorial Healthcare Center.
“Now that it is up and running I think it’ll get a lot of use,” Masterson said.
Pointing to the convenience of the service Masterson said, “The patients walk over to the clinic, have the telemedicine appointment and then they can walk home.”
Traveling long distances to see doctors is one main reason why many patients do not return for follow-up appointments, Masterson said.
“Patients get the follow-up and hands on care with their personal provider,” Masterson said, noting many patients prefer maintaining that familiar relationship.  
Through the telemedicine network continuing medical education classes are also offered, allowing staff to attend conferences without the added travel expense. The monitor sits on a wheeled cart and can be moved into larger rooms for classes. 
Powell anticipates that future medical classes offered will be available to the public as well.

Published July 14, 2010

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