Grants to help expand telemedicine in rural Vt., NH - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Grants to help expand telemedicine in rural Vt., NH

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LEBANON, N.H. -

A skin examination is conducted by a physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. But the mock patient in this simulation is not at the facility. The doctor is making her diagnosis through an iPad.

"We recognize the need to support patients and providers that are scattered out across the very broad landscape of northern New England," said Dr. Sarah Pletcher of DHMC.

Two grants from the United States Department of Agriculture will allow the hospital to buy more technology like this and implement it at 40 rural hospitals throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. Think of it as a conversation via Skype with a high-resolution camera.

"Dermatology exams, otoscopes, stethoscopes-- whatever the right device is to present the information and images to the specialist to be able to render an opinion," said Tom Winchell, the technology director.

Lenses can be swapped in and out depending on the procedure. The doctor will never physically enter the room. The experts here say it's the future of how health care will be conducted.

"We are strong advocates of being able to take distance out of the equation of delivering health care," Winchell said.

"Any time we can keep a patient at their first stop, their first local hospital, we feel that we can provide better, safer, more valuable care and certainly look at opportunities to cut costs, as well," Pletcher said.

A nurse will help facilitate examinations, but there are some things the camera will never be able to replace.

"You can't do surgery over telemedicine though you can support providers who are trying to do procedures," Pletcher noted.

The technology also eliminates that valuable bedside care. But Pletcher says statistics show that any interaction with a doctor, even over a computer, is better than no interaction at all.

"If you can provide access to patients, to providers, that is more important to them than the ability to actually touch their provider," Pletcher said.

The technology is already being tested and implemented across the region. Doctors say it gives patients high quality care at a low cost close to home.

How much and what type of equipment distributed will be based on each hospital's individual needs.

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