Maine bolsters telehealth efforts
- By Eric Kulisch
- Sep 22, 2000
Backcountry residents of Maine will benefit from a state and industry effort
to improve access to medical services through telemedicine.
Telemedicine, or telehealth, enables patients in rural areas to interact
with doctors in cities by using information technology and telephone lines
to transmit voice, data and video.
The technology resolves some cost and logistical problems. For instance,
a resident of northernmost Presque Isle, population 10,550, has to drive
about four hours south to Bangor to receive care at the Eastern Maine Medical
Center, one of the largest hospitals in the state. If a doctor travels upstate,
the cost of health care delivery rises substantially.
In Maine, Verizon Communications is helping to solve such problems by
reducing charges by at least 75 percent for Integrated Services Digital
Network lines for telemedicine technology users. Verizon's bulk pricing
plan was made possible when Maine telemedicine professionals banded together
to demonstrate strong demand.
"Maine is known to have a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure,"
Verizon Maine spokesman Peter Riley said. "Telehealth was the obvious additional
application of our network that needs to be tapped."
A state-sponsored telehealth summit on Sept. 26 in Augusta, the state
capital, will review telehealth success stories in the state. It also will
review how to finance the system and how state and federal governments,
as well as private insurance plans, will cover the costs.
At the summit, Gov. Angus King will announce the members of his new
telehealth advisory group, which will evaluate and develop the potential
for telehealth applications while examining the cost effectiveness of new
and existing services in Maine.
A 1998 report by the Association of Telemedicine Service Providers showed
that although telemedicine is being used primarily for consultation with
specialists and second opinions, other applications are gaining ground,
such as management of chronic illness, emergency/triage, surgical follow-up
and home health care.
Besides serving as a medical tool for geographically remote and historically
underserved communities, telehealth also supports distance learning and