Copper Area News
As a county in transition, Pinal is becoming increasingly urban in its northwestern section abutting its border with Maricopa County from Apache Junction to Maricopa. But other parts remain very rural.
With the modern healthcare infrastructure becoming increasing concentrated in the population growth areas, the problem becomes how to provide 21st Century healthcare in the low-population areas abutting Gila County.
One answer is Telemedicine, which uses telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical health care at a distance. Besides improving access to medical services where it would not consistently available, it also can be used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations, said Bill Bolin, vice president of operations with Systems Technology Staffing, Cave Creek.
The most common use of Telemedicine will be the acquisition of medical data (like medical images, biosignals etc.) for online computer transmission to a doctor or medical specialist at a convenient time for assessment. It does not require the presence of both parties at the same time.
Dermatology radiology, and pathology are common specialties that Telemedicine can handle online. The key difference between traditional in-person patient visits and telemedicine encounters is the elimination of an actual physical examination, requiring the remote doctor to rely on a history report and audio/video information in lieu of a physical examination, Bolin explained.
Going further is the technology of Telehealth, which goes beyond the curative aspect of Telemedicine to encompass the preventative, promotive and curative aspects of healthcare. Telehealth takes in many additional technology solutions for helping remote patients. Doctors can employ email to communicate with patients, order drug prescriptions and provide other health services. This technology also enables home monitoring of conditions by patients. In clinical trials in both the US and Great Britain, Telehealth monitoring was found to significantly improve the mortality of vulnerable patients by 45 percent.
Benefits of remote patient monitoring is that patients can have their medical problems checked while staying at home in their own beds rather than at a hospital of clinic. This increases access to care while decreasing healthcare delivery costs, Bolin said. This is especially beneficial in chronic disease management as changes in a patient’s condition can be quickly detected, thus reducing the number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and duration of hospital stays. It also enables healthcare providers to spend more time to remotely educating and communicating with patients.
Telehealth also can be used to monitor severe diabetic conditions, in-home renal dialysis and prenatal care. Earlier this year, remote patient monitoring was qualified for reimbursement under Medicare.
The idea of using telecommunications systems to expand the reach of medical care is not new. The first such system involving HAM radio was launched in 1958 to serve people in Australia’s Outback. The first Telemedicine system operating over telephone lines to monitor cardiac patients was launched in the US in 1989 by MedPhone Corp. The first Telemedicine systems employing the Internet appeared in 2007.
To set up a Telemedicine and Telehealth system one needs a local Internet system with lots of broadband capacity, something not always available throughout Arizona, Bolin said.