The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 13, 1996 · Page 46
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 46

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, October 13, 1996
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Page 46
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6 SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1996 COMING HOME THE SALINA JOURNAL HEALTHCARE Photos by DAVIS TURNER / The Salina Journal Dr. Robert Cox (upper right) is shown in Hays next to an EKG that is being transmitted from Grisell Memorial Hospital, located more than 50 miles away in Ransom. It's part of a pilot program in telemedicine, which allows patients in small towns to receive medical attention from doctors at the Hays Medical Center. A Cure-all Technology brings up-to-date health care to rural areas By LINDA MOWERY-DENNING The Salina Journal lien Boettcher A thinks about the medical tools available to him in the small town of Atwood and those he used for two decades in a rural community in his native Canada. Boettcher, who arrived in the state's northwest corner early this year, said the telemedicine program at the Rawlins County Hospital helped draw him to Atwood. "I found it to be a fascinating idea," the physician said.."The aid that telemedicine could have provided me with in Canada would have been a godsend." Almost 150 miles away, in an emergency room at Hays Medical Center, Dr. Robert Cox nodded his head in agreement as he listened to Boettcher on a speaker telephone. Cox, a pioneer in the field of telemedicine, believes the future of health care in rural areas can be improved with access to equipment that allows patients, physicians and other medical providers to see and talk with each other from across town or across the state. He also believes the technology will make it easier for places such as Atwood, population 1,400, to attract physicians, an exercise that has frustrated small communities for decades. "The problem in rural America is that doctors like the personal lifestyle, but they don't like the professional lifestyle. Telemedicine allows them to share calls and information," Cox said. "This may not apply to the extremely small places. There will still be places at risk. But I've seen some vibrant medical communities in small places. In that sense, it may not make as much difference what your size is as your community's Cox (right) and Brian E. Brltton, administrative director of tele- medicine, say that telemedicine can cut the cost of home health-care visits by as much as 50 percent. personality." Since the late 1980s, Cox, who in June was named chairman of the National Rural Telemedicine Task Force, has promoted the different kinds of telemedicine: transferring X- rays using computers and modems, seeing patients over a large screen in Hays via a hookup with smaller rural hospitals, checking elderly patients in their homes through a system of computers, cameras and television screens. Cox also has used the technology to link meeting participants from different parts of the state. It's often difficult, he said, for a physician in far western Kansas to find time to drive to a session in Hays or Salina. "It's not even the cost and the time it takes," he said. "It's just that you don't even participate. Therefore, you're not at the table and things don't happen." The first connection came in 1991 with a link between Hays and Grisell Memorial Hospital at Ransom, more than 50 miles away. Hospitals at Atwood, St. Francis, Oakley and Goodland have since joined, and Plainville, Phillipsburg, Kinsley and LaCrosse are scheduled to go online later this year. The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City also is a member of the network. The northwest Kansas project is among the five or six oldest such networks in the United States. "We've pretty much built the infrastructure as we've gone along," Cox said. He said the benefits of telemedicine could be tremen 1 dous. It allows physicians to lessen the stress of their on-call time. Elderly citizens can stay in their homes longer. More services will be available and the results of X-rays and other medical procedures can be obtained almost immediately — the same as in larger towns. In late September, an integrated information delivery system, which allows the hospitals to send patient records and video clips over the network, became the first of its kind in the United States, said Brian Britton, the medical center's administrative director of telemedicine. "What we're trying to do is establish a seamless, paperless • information delivery system," he said. Cost has been a barrier to providing the technology to more, hospitals, but prices are on the decline, Cox said. In the early 1990s, a site that allowed one hospital to communicate with another cost $100,000. Oakley and Phillipsburg will pay $70,000 and the equipment is better, the physician said. Another hurdle has been the attitudes of medical professionals. They fear the loss of the personal touch in medicine. Britton said he tries to ease such concerns by telling them that someone — a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician — will always be with the patient. "What we give them is another set of eyes," he said. Cox said the program's biggest boosters have been the elderly. Having a specialist or emergency room physician in Hays treat patients miles away without leaving town means that patients can stay at home. "Elderly patients are fragile and they don't like to travel," Cox said. "They've been our champions." Britton said Hays and northwest Kansas — in much the same way as Salina and north- central Kansas — are linked economically. "We are really focused on supporting the small rural hospital," he said. "We do not look at it as a competition. If the small rural hospital was not there, in the long run we would lose the referrals." Cox has a more personal reason for his support of telemedi- cine. He was raised in -tiny McDonald, several miles west of Atwood. He wants the rural communities he knew as a youngster to survive. He knows they have much to offer. "People don't get shot or mugged," Cox said. "They don't have to deal with the traffic. Make a list. This is a nice place to live." Hcrinaton Tractor Co. inc. "Your One Stop Equipment Supplier" 913-258-3707 NORTH HWY 77 - HERINGTON, K Xceptional Work Ethic Bring an exceptional work ethic home with the Polaris Xplorer 400L and Xplorer 300. Built with features to make your life easier, these ATVs are ready when you are. • Pi/sli-b»ffo;i engage 4-whcel drive gives instant power when you need it • Polaris automatic variable transmission POLRRIS B e / ieve it R&R ENTERPRISES 900 N. Santa Fe Salina 823-706 Polaris ATVs may ran be ridden by anyone undt'r 18, and all riders shuuld lake a Mlrty cam*- FIT sjlely .mil Iraminu informalinn. xr u'ur dealer or call Marts al l-tt!)0-342-.VM' ATVs can be hazardous lo operate. 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