For many people living in a rural area, life can be quiet, peaceful, and uncomplicated. But when a health crisis strikes, the lack of specialists in the area can make long-term care challenging. Patients often have to travel dozens or even hundreds of miles to see a specialist in a large city for treatment and follow-up. But not so in Georgia.
The nonprofit Georgia Partnership for Telehealth oversees a system that allows patients in rural parts of the state to seek specialized care close to home. The organization contracts with medical offices and large hospital systems throughout Georgia. The hospitals, including those in the Emory Healthcare system, provide a range of specialists that connect virtually with patients.
Patients go to a medical office in their area. Both the local office and the Emory office are equipped with computer cameras to send live video. The patient and the nurse at the local office can see the Emory doctor on their screen. The nurse performs the exam and can move the camera at the doctor”s request. Special equipment allows the doctor to see the heartbeat in the patient”s neck and to listen remotely to the heartbeat and lung sounds.
“It”s really everything we could do in the office,”# says Rashell Stephenson, the telehealth coordinator for Emory”s Heart and Vascular Center. “One of the biggest benefits of telehealth is that it reduces health care disparities and inequalities in rural Georgia. Some people can”t get to Atlanta to see a specialist”they can”t pay for travel or can”t lose the time at work. This lessens the patient”s burden.”#
Of the 159 counties in Georgia, 66 of them lack medical centers and 47 have no acute care hospitals. Emory markets its telehealth services in areas that lie at least 75 miles from Atlanta, Stephenson says. The service is an added benefit and doesn”t seek to replace the patient”s home physician.