Patients in rural areas of Utah are often required to travel long distances to see specialty doctors, when services they need are not available close to home, but this trend may be changing.
In Blanding, patients of Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. and Blue Mountain Hospital have already been using different forms of a technology called 'tele-medicine.' Tele-medicine provides local physicians, and their patients, the ability to have one-on-one consultations with specialists at the University of Utah, without having to travel to Salt Lake City. Specialists at the U of U can see the patients in Blanding, and patients can see the specialists, so they can have an actual physician-patient consultation without leaving town.
Etta Shumway is the Specialty Clinic Coordinator for all Outreach Clinics at UNHS. She schedules patient visits with the many specialty doctors who travel to Blanding and other UNHS Community Health Centers throughout the county. She also coordinates the Tele-Medicine facilities used by UNHS to allow local patients to see doctors in Salt Lake City. Currently, Tele-Cardiology is one of the primary tele-medicine specialties used by UNHS. It allows a doctor in Salt Lake City to listen to a patient's heartbeat, monitor heart activity and communicate with the patient and his doctor face to face. It helps a cardiologist manage a heart patient's case and helps keep patients close to home.
Another tele-medicine specialty being used by UNHS is Tele-Dermatology, where a patient in Blanding can have a face-to-face meeting with a Dermatologist at the University of Utah. According to Taylor Cannon, Outreach and Network Devel- opment Manager for the University of Utah, a patient in Blanding, with the aid of a Physician's Assistant (PA) here, can meet with a Dermatologist in Salt Lake City for the initial face to face consultation. If it is determined surgery is needed, the patient goes to Salt Lake for that. However, the follow-up appointments can be done via TeleDerm with the patient and a PA in a room at UNHS, and a Dermatologist in a room at U of U. If no surgery is needed, the patient is saved the time and expense of a trip to Salt Lake to determine he has 'a complicated rash.' This can all be determined via TeleDerm technology. This technology can eliminate the need for one to three trips up north for dermatology treatment, saving patients time and money.
Other tele-medicine specialties being considered are rheumatology and psychiatric treatment. Cannon explained that by law a patient with a potential psychiatric problem has to be held until a social worker or psychiatrist can evaluate that patient. With the new Tele-Psych technology, a psychiatrist or social worker in Salt Lake City can visit with, and evaluate, a patient in Blanding and make a determination about the patient's situation.
Cannon said a pilot project for this Tele-Psych technology is being planned for Gunnison. He said there is a huge need for such a program throughout rural Utah.
The idea of tele-medicine is catching on in rural areas throughout Utah. It can save patients a great deal of time, money and inconvenience, while allowing them to receive quality healthcare. Cannon said this is a great way to provide a physician to patient care visit with a specialty doctor, without having the patient leave his/her community.
Blue Mountain Hospital also has tele-medicine care with its Tele-Stroke Machine. With this machine, potential stroke patients in the BMH ER can be connected to a specialist at the University of Utah. The specialist can observe the patient and make a diagnosis as to whether the patient needs to be transported to another facility, and whether the patient needs a TPA (tissue plasminogen activator), and if they need a TPA on site.
Tele-medicine is one way patients in rural areas can manage their medical care close to home, by seeing specialty doctors without having to make long, expensive trips up north. It is helping UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital patients now, and will likely play a greater role in health care for San Juan County patients in the future.