Long-distance Prenatal Care - Thanks to Telemedicine Technology

Article Date: Nov 16, 2010

Telemedicine connects doctors with patients miles away

As Jennifer Ehlers, who’s pregnant with twins, settles in for her ultrasound appointment – the sonographer flips on a light, a camera and a television screen. It’s not exactly how you picture this type of appointment, but for Jennifer, it’s the next best thing.

Her pregnancy is considered high risk, which means her doctor relies on the expertise of maternal fetal medicine specialists, like Dr. Michael Barsoom with Alegent Health Clinic. Unfortunately, she lives in Norfolk and Dr. Barsoom works out of Omaha – which means a visit to this highly specialized physician used to mean a two-hour drive each way.

Not anymore. Modern technology and a system called Telemedicine bring the two together – virtually.

“It allows us to provide service to rural areas where there is not enough volume for specialists to go,” Dr. Barsoom explains. “Traditionally patients would drive to Omaha or the specialist would drive to Norfolk.”

Telemedicine kind of looks like a souped-up Skype, but behind the TV screen and camera is top-notch technology. However, there aren’t any bad pictures or broken audio, just clear images over a secure line.

“Once the image is good enough, it’s like they are sitting in the room,” says Dr. Barsoom. “People are used to seeing it because of technology available on their computers like Skype and iChat. Getting it on the medical side is the new part of it.”

Partnering with other physicians gives patients a double-dose of expertise. Keith Vrbicky, M.D. is Jennifer’s OB/GYN in Norfolk. He believes Telemedicine is the answer to bringing highly specialized physicians, like Dr. Barsoom, to Norfolk and beyond.

“We have patients drive here from Ainsworth, Atkinson, O’Neill – we cover the central and west part of the area,” says Dr. Vrbicky. “They come here and connect to doctors at a medical center where they can get the subspecialty care.”

Before Telemedicine, Dr. Michael Barsoom was on the road a lot – up to once a week. Now he has no more road trips on the calendar. Instead he sees four to five patients a week on the big screen – and he expects that number to grow.

“I’ll plan on seeing you again in four weeks,” Dr. Barsoom tells Jennifer as he wraps up her appointment. For her, Telemedicine is peace of mind. She knows she has a doctor in Norfolk and a doctor in Omaha making the connection to keep her babies safe.

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