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New Telemedicine Program Helps Bring in Stroke Specialists

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A new state of the art telemedicine program at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is providing a much needed neurological and neurosurgical specialists to rural and smaller-based hospitals across New Mexico, including Cibola General Hospital.

UNM Hospitals, with the assistance of Albuquerque-based technology firm Net Medical Xpress, lately established a network of high-definition cameras and audio-visual conferencing equipment that enables specialists at UNM Hospital to interact directly with patients and their providers at 13 different hospital locations across New Mexico. The number is likely expected to double, as more equipment is installed in surrounding hospitals.

Neurosurgeons and neurologists at UNM are now able to offer real-time, face-to-face consultations over the internet with physicians, patients, and their families who live in communities that have typically been considerably deficient in acquiring or accessing this sort of specialized care. telemedicine program stroke

“For stroke care, you really have to see the patient. You have to look at the patients’ pupils and watch their movement, alongside viewing the MRI or CT scan images,” stated stroke specialist and the chair of the UNM Department of Neurosurgery, one of the only neurosurgery facilities in the state, Howard Yonas, MD.

The UNM departments of neurosurgery and neurology only started using telemedicine technology five years ago. This has enabled remote hospitals to send high resolution MRI and CT scans to UNM through a protected imaging capture system. Additionally, due to advances in audio-visual technology, the program has now evolved to allow UNM specialists to consult with other doctors and their patients in real-time, through secure, remote control cameras that have been installed in emergency rooms across the state.

“The driving force behind our interest in the telemedicine technology is to quickly diagnose the patient and either get them to the higher level of care they need as soon as possible or keep them locally and keep an eye on their condition,” said Cibola General Hospital CEO Mike Makosky.

“Strokes need to be diagnosed quickly so treatment can begin to prevent permanent damage. Using the telemedicine technology and tapping into the neurologists at UNM help our clinicians do just that.”

Furthermore, in accordance with supplying instant specialist care to patients, the program also thwarts any pointless and costly medical transports to Albuquerque. Because of the low number of specialists in rural hospitals and potential severity of brain injuries, many patients had to be flown via helicopter or plane to UNM Hospital to receive treatment from a specialist.

Although these modes of transport are sometimes justifiable, UNM discovered that almost 40 percent of these patients were not in need of emergency treatment and could have remained at their local hospital, preventing the difficulty and strain of such transport and cost. Helicopter transportation from a rural hospital to UNM can cost around $30,000.  

“We can prevent some of these unnecessary transports. And if the patient really has an emergency, then we can expedite things and get them here quicker. We can even start their care at the other hospital before they travel. So better information leads to better decision-making, better triage,” said Yonas.

This telemedicine program is part of a bigger plan at the UNM Health Sciences Center to improve brain and behavioral health in New Mexico, a proposal made possible by the UNM Brain and Behavior Health Institute (BBHI).

“In a large, primarily rural state like New Mexico, delivering specialized healthcare to all communities is a challenge. The BBHI is bringing together regional hospitals, local small businesses, medical specialists and researchers from UNM to engage our community partners throughout the state and create solutions for improving healthcare access statewide,” said faculty member in the UNM Department of Neurosciences who is leading the effort to establish the new center, Bill Shuttleworth, PhD.

Depending on the success of the program, Cibola General Hospital is looking to integrate the system into other specialties such as Cardiology and Psych.

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