Mississippi aims to bring emergency care to underserved rural areas with telemedicine
A link to the future is up and running in Mississippi. The University of Mississippi Medical Center has launched what hospital leaders believe is the first telecommunications system specifically designed to provide emergency medical care.
The system, called TelEmergency, electronically links emergency physicians at UMC to rural facilities where emergency doctors are often unavailable. In its initial one-year pilot configuration, TelEmergency allows nurse practitioners in 21 rural hospital emergency departments in the Delta Regional Health Network to consult with UMC physicians on critical care cases using bedside videoconferencing gear. The physicians at UMC remotely manipulate the videoconference camera, then advise the nurse practitioners on how to treat the patient, based on the nurse's preliminary physical exam and information from the remote examination.
"The TelEmergency system is a way for us to reach patients in various locations--such as the Mississippi Delta--where emergency services are not always readily available," says Robert Galli, M.D., UMC professor and chair of emergency medicine.
Before being assigned to the rural hospitals, nurse practitioners must take an emergency medicine course taught by the university hospital's emergency physicians and nurses.
UMC has used similar technology to treat inmates at Mississippi Department of Corrections facilities since 1998. In March 2002, the hospital began a joint project with NASA to use telecommunications and medical imaging to link with two hospitals in Japan.
Telemedicine, a long available technology starting to show its promise, is helping with health care in other hard-to-reach places. Residents of 11 remote villages in Alaska's Northwest Arctic Borough, a region above the Arctic Circle the size of Indiana with 7,300 people, no doctors and no roads in or out, didn't have to wait long for their new telemedicine system to pay off. The day it was plugged in, doctors 200 miles away in Kotzebue were called on to guide one village's health practitioner through the delivery of the system's first telebaby using live, two-way video and voice technologies.
Dennis Tiepelman, past-president of the Maniilaq Association, the not-for-profit tribal consortium that led the effort to fund and establish telemedicine technology in each clinic throughout the district, is thrilled with the improvement."It was as if the doctors actually were in the room," he says.
This article first appeared in the April 2003 issue of H&HN magazine.