USDA grant given to MCG changes how doctors treat patients in rural emergency rooms

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Georgia consistently ranks in the top 10 as far as population size. The peach state also ranks in the bottom 10 for various healthcare categories. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 58 of them have no emergency medicine doctor.

A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture given to the Medical College of Georgia aims to improve the gap between population and quality of healthcare.

The $369,000 paid for telemedicine equipment in the emergency department at AU Health and for telemedicine carts for emergency departments in 5 rural hospitals. The ER telemedicine carts will go to hospitals in Swainsboro, Washington, Sandersville, Colquitt and Cordele. With the emergency telemed carts, doctors at MCG can virtually be in the ER in these rural hospitals.

Dr. Matt Lyon is the Director of the Center for Ultrasound Education for the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Dr. Lyon breaks down some of the devices they can use on the telemedicine cart from miles away.

“Ultrasound, airway devices, any basic emergency procedure so that could be vascular access, obtaining an airway on them, providing that guidance for acute stroke management or acute heart attack. We can do all of that remotely,” Dr. Lyon says.

In the past, healthcare providers have paid a premium on telemedicine equipment. Because the video conferencing technology was intended for a healthcare setting, manufacturers charged more than if the technology was being used in a business setting.

“Telemedicine has traditionally been very expensive because it uses proprietary equipment. This system is based on traditional teleconferencing software,” Dr. Lyon explains. “All you do is just call up just like if you were on Skype or on an iPhone.”

Telemedicine is also typically used for specific conditions. like sickle cell or for stroke patients. This program uses the technology in the E.R., which could save the patient hundreds on an ambulance ride.

Emergency Department Chairman, Dr. Richard Schwartz, says the method is also better for the rural hospitals

“The finances of healthcare is very very difficult for the rural hospitals in this day and age and one of the intents of our program is to keep every appropriate patient in their own hospitals if possible and to get patients back into those hospitals into what are called swing beds after the acute care setting,” Dr. Schwartz says.

When a patient stays in a rural hospital, so does the money many of the rural hospitals desperately need and more money coming in, means less burden on the tax payer.

“The initial 5 hospitals is just the tip of the iceberg because we see this as a rapidly expanding program throughout the state to improve the healthcare,” Dr. Schwartz says.

This telemedicine program is also being used in at lease one Georgia prison. The goal is to expand to more rural hospitals and more prisons.

The program could mean more now than even just a week ago. On Tuesday, lawmakers started looking at state budget cuts. TAhose cuts could affect rural healthcare.

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