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Telemedicine: Care Across the Miles

August 23, 2012
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A small practice in a rural, underserved area uses technology to reach out to patients

As technology becomes more pervasive in healthcare, examples of how it is being used effectively to improve care are cropping up everywhere. I came across one example yesterday, during a conference call regarding the announcement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' selection of primary care practices to participate in the agency’s Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative.

One of the program’s participating physicians—Stacy Zimmerman, M.D., with Ozark Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Clinton, Ark.—gave her perspective during the call. Zimmerman’s practice, which has made the transition to a patient-centered medical home, is located in a remote area; many of her patients travel 20 miles for an office visit.
Zimmerman noted that the practice uses technology to bridge the physical distance, through the use of secure patient portals, Facebook to provide health tips, and a website that provides “condition tracker” tools for patients to measure blood pressure and blood sugar levels at home and transmit the results through their secure portal.
She also noted that her practice treats chronically ill patients in hospices, or who have high acuity conditions with multiple medical problems. Physicians have remote, HIPAA-secure access to the EMR through iPhones, iPads and their PCs at home, she said.
Telemedicine is also improving care coordination by providing access to other care providers such as home health and hospices. She has used technology to provide an interface to share information while caregivers are seeing the patient and to record the information electronically in real time, she said. One possibility being investigated for the future is video, she added: “We are in the process of trying to work in video, so we can actually see what the hospice nurse is doing at that time.”
For me, Dr. Zimmerman’s experience provides a compelling case for the use of telemedicine to improve care in underserved areas. It can also help fill a gap to improve care transitions, a persistent problem regardless of where a practice is located.