JULY 11, 2005 | Compliments can come in all forms, and one recently paid to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) was a visit by Joe Tracy of the University of Missouri.
Tracy, nationally recognized for innovations that help University of Missouri doctors reach patients who live far away, was at UAMS to discuss “Emerging Issues in Telemedicine.” Afterward, he would stay around to learn about a UAMS success story.
“I wanted to hear what you’re doing with your Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) program and how you do high-risk OB,” Tracy told about 20 invited UAMS guests.
The UAMS campus has high-speed connections that enable live video consultations with 50 sites around the state, primarily rural hospitals and clinics, community health centers and its seven AHECs. The telehealth program also connects with two Arkansas Health Department clinics.
Most consultations are for high-risk pregnancies, said Ann Bynum, Ed.D., UAMS’ Rural Hospital Program director and the AHECs’ associate director for program development.
The high-risk pregnancy consultations are part of UAMS’ nationally recognized ANGELS prenatal program. ANGELS is the acronym for Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System.
Unlike Arkansas, Missouri’s Medicaid program has been slow to warm up to the idea of telehealth, Tracy said.
“When I heard what Arkansas was doing with high-risk pregnancies and heard about the cost savings potential there, I wanted to see what you were doing so that I could go back to Missouri and the Medicaid folks and say, “I’ve got yet another example of how we can help you reduce costs if you can help us,'” Tracy said.
Tracy’s advocacy of telehealth has taken him to Washington, D.C., where he has lobbied and helped draft laws that remove legal and financial barriers to telehealth.
His message to UAMS faculty was to get involved in promoting more use of the technology.
“If you don’t, you forfeit your right to complain,” he said. “Telehealth is a vital part of what we do. You have to make that sell.”
Bynum said that while the ANGELS program accounts for the lion’s share of UAMS’ use of telehealth, other specialties, such as cardiology and mental health, make use of it as well.
UAMS also uses the technology for staff development in rural hospitals and clinics, diabetes training, and programs geared to patients. UAMS now has an oncology outreach program funded by a federal telehealth grant, Bynum said.
“We’ve been building our telehealth program, and there are more and more requests now for consultations,” she said.
Tracy has directed the Missouri Telehealth Network since 1994. Tracy is board chairman of the Center for Telemedicine Law in Washington, D.C., and in 2003 he accepted the American Telemedicine Association President’s Award on behalf of the Missouri Telehealth Network.
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