Kentucky expands medical outreach

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"Flatlining"

Kentucky is planning to spend $1.1 million to expand its telehealth system, which has been established primarily in the eastern part of the state, into a true statewide network that will provide medical services now unavailable in many rural areas.

The eastern telehealth network, run by the University of Kentucky, has been in place for six years and has handled about 3,000 clinical situations, ranging from psychiatric consultations and dermatological treatment to pre- and post-operative care and emergency cases.

Patients go to a local health center where they can be examined and have treatment prescribed by a medical specialist who may be hundreds of miles away. The network also provides educational programming for rural doctors and nurses.

"Without these telehealth facilities, people in these remote areas would have to drive hours to get to a major medical center," said Rob Sprang, director of Kentucky TeleCare at the University of Kentucky (www.mc.uky.edu/kytelecare). "And many of them are terrified at the thought of having to leave their rural communities to come to the city. [Telehealth] is probably better for them than the face-to-face care they would get if they traveled."

The state's new expenditures will pay for 10 telehealth partners, Sprang said, who each will receive about $21,000 worth of teleconferencing equipment and peripheral equipment, such as electronic stethoscopes, special cameras, and ears, nose and throat (ENT) scopes. It will also pay for up to 75 percent of the $650 to $800 monthly charges for T-1 lines.

Some 15 sites that already are up and running also will get state subsidies to help with line charges, but the sites will not get new equipment. The money also will help fund four new telehealth training centers.

The University of Louisville, which will co-manage the entire network with the Lexington-based University of Kentucky, will oversee development of the new western section of the Kentucky TeleHealth Network.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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