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Telehealth Initiatives Lead the Way for Better Health Outcomes

As a German proverb says, “A half doctor near is better than a whole one far away”.

Until recently, both patient and physician usually needed to be in the same vicinity to ensure the best medical care. Seeing the patient to cure the disease is a guiding principal that is being taken to a new level with the use of telehealth technologies.

Through initiatives that span across the clinical, educational and research communities at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the distance between patients and physicians - diseases and cures - is reducing. Big things are happening in every corner of the University through technology, innovation and perseverance.

Changes in the way patients and healthcare providers across the state interact with MUSC specialists are already occurring when stroke patients are able to “be seen” at their local emergency departments by neurologists such as Dr. Christine Homstedt, Director of the MUSC Clinical Stroke Department and Assistant Director of REACH. In virtual conversations conducted through videoconferencing equipment, the patient’s mental state is assessed, test results are reviewed, and decisions, often life saving, are made about medical and surgical management that will give the patient the best chance to return to the quality of life they experienced only a few hours before. When time is of the essence, the distance needed to travel to achieve a better outcome is becoming shorter for many patients who now have the benefit of Dr. Homstedt’s consultation.

In addition to suspecting a stoke is the correct diagnosis and initiating emergent care, healthcare providers in areas where telehealth is accessible, including emergency room nurses, EMT’s, nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants, must recognize that specialists are available and know what steps to take to initiate a consult. A statewide teleconferencing network hosted by the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium (South Carolina AHEC) also allows continuing education programs to be offered by MUSC specialists that complement the availability of telehealth opportunities.

The South Carolina AHEC has provided training and education for healthcare professionals in communities large and small for 40 years. After placing videoconferencing equipment in 20 rural hospitals last year, the South Carolina AHEC is partnering with MUSC REACH and others to provide more healthcare professionals with evidenced-based continuing education programs while encouraging and supporting a new generation of providers to serve in rural communities that now may not seem as remote with the availability of new technologies.

Countless people, working to build the physical connections used by telehealth, are making these services a reality. A team of dedicated network specialists charting new territory are running high-speed broadband cables, connecting devices across virtual bridges and then flipping the switch to make it all a reality. At MUSC, the Network Systems Team, led by Michael Haschker, are using broadband highways built with federal grant funds to connect the physicians, educators, researchers, patients and communities across the state to better healthcare outcomes. Through the expansion of services and the advancement of technologies, innovations will continue to make MUSC a leader in academic health services for South Carolina.

Whether the MUSC specialist can lay hands on the patient or not may be irrelevant. With telehealth, along with local healthcare providers and the family members, stands a “whole” remote doctor supported by teams of behind the scene experts – and a patient who will hopefully live a long, healthy life. That MUSC specialists are virtually there for the patient may be all that matter.

AHEC Hospitals

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