Maine bolsters telehealth efforts

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

administrative videoconferencing.

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