Telehealth offers convenient service for patients

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PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- When Kara Williams went to see the dermatologist last week, it was like any doctor appointment.With one big difference.Videoconferencing technology connected Kara in an exam room at Illini Community Hospital in Pittsfield with Dr. Stephen Stone in Springfield -- part of a growing range of telehealth services available through Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and designed to benefit both patients and providers."It was a typical appointment," said Kara, a 14-year-old freshman at Pittsfield High School who didn't mind talking with Stone with help from technology rather than face-to-face. "I like it."So did Kara's mom, Amy Williams."It's close and convenient since we live in Pittsfield, which is very helpful especially with as many sports and activities that we have," Williams said. "We would have had to go to Springfield or Quincy to see a dermatologist."Illini recently began offering telehealth urology and dermatology clinics through SIU, with plans to expand into ear, nose and throat, endocrinology and potentially additional areas."It's specialty care at home," said Sandy Farrell, Illini's director of outpatient services.SIU provides the equipment and Illini has trained personnel to work with it.Illini's telepresenter, Gayla Risley with Illini, was in the exam room with Kara to take her vital signs, photograph her face and follow-up with any prescriptions. Illini nurse practitioner Sherri White trained with Stone on lesion removal, when needed.A newcomer to the telehealth system in the past month, Stone said it's working well."With staff at the other end taking close-up photos, I'm able not only to look at images but to talk to the patient. We have a great conversation," he said. "The only thing I can't do is touch the person."Stone expected the technology to appeal most to younger patients, but he said adults also have been receptive."I think a big part of it is there's a live human being at the other end," he said. "You know what that person's training and certification is, and you actually have that interaction."SIU Telehealth technology is installed in 11 locations throughout rural Illinois -- including Carthage and Quincy -- and treats patients virtually in more than 15 specialty areas."It's really about making sure every patient who needs care gets care," SIU's Executive Director of Telehealth and Clinical Outreach Nina Antoniotti said."The patient has the burden of distance, time and in most families in our service area in central and southern Illinois also an economic burden. Many don't have money to travel, so telehealth is about making health care more convenient for patients. Traditionally we've been moving patients around to where care is. In telehealth, we say it's about moving the care around to where the patient is."Antoniotti said SIU hopes to partner with about 50 sites by the end of next year, providing the medical professional while lab work, X-rays, prescriptions and ancillary services stay in the community. In most cases, telehealth virtual visits are covered by insurance."With increasing numbers of people with multiple chronic conditions, decreasing number of health professionals out in the field and a decreasing number willing to work in rural and remote areas, the ability to get individual care strategies is going to be important," Antoniotti said.

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