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ETSU telemedicine grant allowing doctors, patients access to knowledge, care

Rex Barber • May 23, 2012 at 9:12 AM

For the first time, a doctor lecturing on oncology at East Tennessee State University can be broadcast live to sites around the region.

Barbara Sucher, assistant dean of continuing medical education at the ETSU College of Medicine, said Tuesday was the first day the school implemented a grant aimed at providing telemedicine to this section of rural Appalachia.

The telemedicine program has service and educational components and was developed to deliver physician specialty and sub-specialty services to five rural counties in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant.

The $191,600 grant to the medical school was augmented by $96,000 from ETSU to get the program started. The five counties that will benefit from the telemedicine project are Hancock and Johnson in Tennessee, Harlan in Kentucky, and Smyth and Tazewell in Virginia.

“This was sort of a kickoff day,” Sucher said. “All of our sites are ready to receive the broadcasts. Our site here on campus is ready to send out the broadcasts.”

Sucher said this week she let people at the participating hospitals and clinics know the program is now available so they can plan to schedule and take advantage of the service.

The first lecture was held Tuesday morning on the topic of oncology. Everything worked as it should have, with ETSU employees monitoring the proceedings from a control room on the main campus. The technology used allows a camera to auto-focus on the speaker, moving when the speaker moves to ensure he or she is always on screen.

“We’ve been testing and getting things ready,” Sucher said.

The lectures being broadcast are part of a continuing medical education program called Grand Rounds. The school holds four grand rounds a week to be broadcast to the participating sites. These one-hour talks will be in the areas of internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and psychiatry.

“And they’re sort of the bread and butter of what’s going on in medicine today,” Sucher said of the Grand Rounds lectures.

Sucher said the Grand Rounds contain information that is immediately useful for doctors to help patients. Other health care professionals besides physicians can also benefit from the lectures.

The whole program is designed to help patients, Sucher said. By this fall the participating sites will have equipment that will allow two-way interaction. Doctors will be able to communicate with patients from far away when that part of the grant is implemented.

Sucher said sometimes patients who live far away from doctors they see in Johnson City may not return for follow-up care due to many things, including the cost and time needed to travel.

“And so what we’re trying to do is maintain that care, that continuity of care, between the specialist and the patient,” Sucher said.

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