Office of Insurance and Safety Fire CommissionerRalph T. Hudgens
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How Telemedicine Helped Sadie

Picture of Sadie Imagine that you require a pediatric specialist for your eight year-old daughter’s chronic condition, but the closest specialist is four and a half hours away from your home – one way. Round trip, that’s more than eight hours – an entire day’s work for most people, and an entire day out of school for your daughter.

For Sadie Lewis and her daughter Tamera, this has been the routine for most of Tamera’s young life. Not willing to compromise Tamera’s health, Sadie travels hundreds of miles from home to ensure her daughter receives the care she needs.

However, last month Tamera’s check-up was different. Even though she was being treated by her pediatric specialist at the Medical College of Georgia’s Children’s Hospital in Augusta, Tamera was sitting at her hometown hospital, Coffee Regional Medical Center, in Douglas, Georgia. Thanks to the Georgia Rural Health Initiative announced by my office in March 2005, Tamera and her mom were interacting with her doctor in Augusta in real time, via high-speed telecommunications technology and specialized medical cameras, without having to miss a day of school or work.

This scenario, made possible by telemedicine represents the future for millions of Georgians living in rural communities. Telemedicine uses the latest advances in medical and information technology to allow patients and their family doctors to consult with specialists at distant locations. Georgia’s initiative, the largest rollout of a telemedicine network in the country, will provide all 8.8 million Georgia citizens access to the highest-quality specialty health care possible, without the need to travel across the state to get it.

In fact, by the end of this year, our new network will ensure every Georgian is less than 30 miles from a telemedicine site, allowing them convenient access to the state’s top health care specialists – specialists who are traditionally found in the larger metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta and Macon.

Once Georgia’s telemedicine network has been fully implemented, there will be 36 telemedicine sites at rural clinics and hospitals, such as Ty Cobb Memorial in Royston and Crisp Regional in Cordele; and four specialty care sites: Emory Healthcare and Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.

Through a unique partnership between my office and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, citizens throughout Georgia can now look forward to receiving the same quality care available in urban areas. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and its parent company, WellPoint, Inc., committed $11.5 million over three-years to provide the telemedicine equipment and necessary training to support the Georgia Rural Health Initiative.

In addition to Georgia’s telemedicine program, my office is also launching a pilot teleradiology program for that will allow rural hospitals increased access to radiologists. Currently, many rural hospitals must transport diagnostic film, such as x-rays, 30 miles or more to the nearest health care facility with a radiologist on duty who can read the film and provide an expert diagnosis. Valuable time is lost transporting the film - time that should be used to diagnose and treat the patient.

Our pilot teleradiology program will equip certain rural health care facilities with the technology and training needed to transfer diagnostic images digitally to radiologists anywhere in the world instantaneously, enabling quicker diagnosis and treatment. The pilot program will kick off at Louis Smith Memorial in Lakeland on April 3, and our hope is that by the end of 2006, four hospitals will be utilizing teleradiology, further increasing health care access and enhancing the quality of care for all Georgians.

After all, the health care of each and every citizen of Georgia is important and should not be compromised due to where someone chooses to live. Through Georgia’s telemedicine and teleradiology initiatives, we are taking steps to help ensure all Georgians have convenient access to the best providers and modern health care advancements this state has to offer.
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