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How a new Vt. law could help you get the health care you need - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How a new Vt. law could help you get the health care you need

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RUTLAND, Vt. -

"Lauren, we are going to have you look at this with your eyes and follow it with your eyes," Nurse Practitioner Sara Locke said.

This exam at the Rutland Regional Medical Center looks like any other checkup, but the doctor treating the mock patient is an hour and a half north at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington.

"I tell the patient to talk to me as if I'm in the patient's room," said Dr. Ajay Tunguturi of the UVM Medical Center.

The two medical centers partnered up to demonstrate telehealth, a practice that allows doctors to treat patients via webcam as long as a nurse or nurse practitioner is with the patient.

Advocates say telehealth is vital for patients in rural places where there is a lack of specialists. Even in Rutland, there are not enough neurologists.

"We do not have enough coverage," Locke said.

Ten days a month, patients at Rutland Regional are able to get neurology treatment without having to drive to Burlington or the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

"We chit chat and obtain a history like we would if they were here in the room," Locke said.

Following the demonstration, Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill allowing telehealth to take place anywhere as long as the patient is in a private room and the internet connection is secure. The state is still working on how to guarantee a protected webchat.

"This opens up a whole new world in terms of trying to go a little bit further and possibly having some sort of issue, whether immobile, not able to get to the doctors but have a question on whether they should," said Scott, R-Vermont.

But does a checkup via webcam affect the level of health care the patient is receiving? Locke, who specializes in telemedicine, says it doesn't.

"We have the program so finely tuned that I don't believe it is any different than if the doctor saw them here in person," she said.

Telehealth from outside of hospital rooms could start in October if internet security is squared away.

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