HAYS, KS -- The pulse and blood pressure of a heart patient running on a treadmill is monitored by a technician miles away. A cancer victim's pain medication is adjusted after a long-distance telephone consult. A diabetic's insulin regime is changed after his blood sugar levels are monitored by a physician over a computer. The first symptoms of a child's strep throat infection are caught through interactive video in the school nurse's office.
These and other instances of telemedicine working in rural communities will be highlighted during a panel on telemedicine and e-health advances, hosted by Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs at its Telepower 2000 conference, Oct. 19, in Hays, KS.
Health-care personnel from Hays Medical Center, Kansas University Medical Center, and Graham County Hospital will present information on long distance cardiopulmonary rehab, tele-home health care, tele-hospice, and TeleKidCare services currently available in some rural Kansas communities
"Visiting a medical specialist without having to leave your community may seem like a given for standard health care service in cities and large towns, but in rural areas where even attracting general practitioners is a challenge, long drives for out-of-town health care is the norm," says Robert Cox, MD, medical director at Hays Medical Center and the panel's moderator.
The many difficulties of delivering health care to rural populations, which are disproportionately elderly, has led to the development of tele-medicine. Using a web of telephones, computers, monitoring devices, and interactive video, health care professionals from regional centers can connect to local hospitals -- or even individual homes -- to diagnose, treat and monitor certain health conditions.
One such program is starting up at the Hays Medical Center with grant support from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The center will electronically collect data on a regular basis from patients with chronic disorders, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while they are in their homes. Variations in their data will be reported to their attending physician.
With this information, health professionals will have the opportunity to make adjustments in the treatment plan that may reduce the need for visits to the emergency room or readmission to the hospital. Admission to a nursing home facility may be delayed as well.
The health and progress of rural heart patients recently released from the Hays Medical Center's Heart Institute can also be monitored at their local hospitals through HMC's long distance Cardiopulmonary Rehab Unit. Instead of driving to Hays for frequent checkups, patients use a system of exercise machines, medical equipment and computers connected to HMC exercise physiologists to check their progress.
It's a win-win situation where patients save travel time and time lost from work, and medical personnel find that patients' compliance (and ultimately their health) is increased.
The telemedicine panel is part of the Docking Institute's ninth annual Telepower conference, which features how small and rural communities throughout Kansas can use information technology and telecommunications for economic and community development.
"Our conference has always had a strong focus on how technology can be applied to assist local communities," says Cathy Drabkin, the conference's coordinator. "We anticipate nearly 200 economic development officials, Chamber of Commerce representatives, business consultants, government officials and community leaders will attend. We've tried to provide real-world information and practical strategies that rural leaders can take back home with them."
This year's underwriting sponsors, whose support helps bring in conference speakers from around the country while keeping registration affordable for small towns and organizations, are the Hays Medical Center, Southwestern Bell Telephone, and Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation.
In addition, corporate and contributing sponsors include Rural Telephone, Kansas Health Foundation, Sykes Enterprises, BV Solutions Group, Garden City Information Technology Cooperative, Information Network of Kansas, Westlink Communications, Utilicorp United, Sunflower Electric Power Cooperative, and the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing.
The conference will be Oct. 18 and 19 on the campus of Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS.
Registration for the event is $99. For more information, or for a conference brochure, call the institute at (785) 628-5952. The conference web site is located at www.fhsu.edu/docking/telepower.