Telemedicine changing rural health care

Local hospitals are using new technology known as telemedicine to bring top specialists from around the world into rural communities.

Like many rural health care facilities, Harrisburg Medical CEO Rodney Smith says he has a hard time recruiting full-time medical specialists.

"What we used to do was pick up the phone and talk to a specialist, and that specialist was not in the room with the patient," said Smith.

Using a USDA grant, doctors like Dr. Robert Hodson, who operate in rural areas, can ask for assistance from the area’s top specialists using what is known as telemedicine.

"We can do an exam together in real time, and I think the patients enjoy it because they feel like we are really on the ball,” said Hodson. “We’ve got access to a neurointensivist, and we’re really trying to get their care expedited."

After wheeling the telemedicine robot into place, the doctor can get a look at the patient and diagnose them from anywhere with an internet connection.

"It works, in a way, as if we would be inside the building where we’re being called,” said Dr. Alejandro Hornik. “We could be seconds away from the bedside."

"There are cameras on the equipment that allow them to zoom in on any specific part of the body, and they’ll be able to see it better than with the naked eye,” said Smith.

"We can get a very detailed history and physical examination, from a neurologic standpoint, on our patients," said Hornik.

With five specialists rotating on call, there is always a doctor just a click away.

Currently the Southern Illinois Telemedicine network is only used for mental health care and stroke patients, but they hope to expand and add cardiology and trauma within the coming months.

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