Nebraska, in the middle of the United States, is full of spacious stretches of land and sky with widely scattered inhabitants. Although it has a long way to go before it maximizes telehealth, it might be the first place it was used in the nation. Some 55 years ago, Dr. Cecil Wittson, a former University of Nebraska Medical Center dean and chancellor, did some psychiatric consultation with two-way audio and video similar to closed-circuit television. At the time, it was the best way to treat distant patients without transporting them many miles to an office.
A recent article in the Omaha World-Herald gives an interesting update to Nebraska’s telehealth progress. “Doctor’s home visit is back – kind of- as telehealth flourishes nationwide” by Rick Ruggles looks at the way things have changed.
“This is like the tsunami. So much is happening. Technology is changing really rapidly. Legislation is changing,” said Mandi Constantine, who was hired 15 months ago as executive director of telehealth for the Nebraska Medical Center to hasten the hospital’s efforts.
Telehealth is being used in rural areas to connect specialists to patients in local doctors’ offices without having to drive hundreds of miles. Psychiatric appointments are happening in nursing homes via videoconferencing instead of transporting frail patients and compromising their health. The Nebraska Med Center has at least 13 new test projects and initiatives in telehealth covering a wide range of specialties.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs began using telehealth in the late 1990s, adding remote patient monitoring in the following decade. Last year, 608,900 patients were cared for using home monitoring, videoconferences, and related technology. According to Dr. Adam Darkins, the Veterans Health Administrations chief consultant for telehealth, the VA saves about $2,000 a year per patient with technology that costs about $300-400 per patient annually and keeps them out of the hospital. Video telehealth specialties include wound care, nutritional counseling, infectious diseases, and psychiatry.
It’s interesting to see how video conferencing and similar technologies is improving healthcare in areas that previously had few medical options. WhyGo has been watching the global state of the video conference for over ten years, and it is exciting to see telehealth be an established part of medical practice.