U Telehealth Network Boosts Outreach with Federal, Foundation Grant

U Telehealth Network Boosts Outreach with Federal, Foundation Grant

Jul 6, 2004 6:00 PM

The Utah Telehealth Network is preparing to increase capacity and expand services to its 21-site network thanks to nearly $500,000 in federal funds and $200,000 grant from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation. The network, which added 10 additional sites in November, is connecting rural Utah communities with the vast medical services and resources available at the University of Utah. The new funding will increase the networks ability to provide clinical services and education to health care providers throughout Utah.

Established in 1995, the Utah Telehealth Network is designed to help the states medically underserved and rural areas access patient care and ongoing health education and information. The network, managed by the University of Utah Telehealth Program, spans the state with locations from St. George to Logan and Monument Valley to Vernal. The $500,000 in federal funding came from a national $820 billion omnibus bill designed by Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and other lawmakers.

Additionally, the Utah Telehealth Network partnered with the Spencer S. Eccles Health Science Library in a grant application to the Eccles Foundation.

Telehealth conferences are conducted primarily through videoconferencing and high-speed Internet connections. The technology has helped deliver health-related services such as radiology, electronic pharmacy, and emergency burn trauma consultations to remote areas in Utah as well as the Intermountain area, according to Marta J. Petersen, M.D., director of the Utah Telehealth Network.

"The federal funding was supported by Congress. But, in the end, it took the lead from Sen. Bennett and the support of all of Utahs congressional delegations to make it happen" said Petersen, professor of dermatology at the U of U School of Medicine.

The Utah Telehealth Network now has linked all public health district offices and many of Utahs remote hospitals and clinics. For example, the network allows CAT scans and X-rays taken in rural areas to be transmitted to medical specialists hundreds of miles away and enables patients and health-care providers at distant sites to interact nearly "face-to-face," Petersen said.

"Until recently, areas such as Monument Valley havent had reliable Internet or phone services. Today, three clinics in San Juan County are linked to the network and have access to real-time support and education programs for health professionals," she said.

Currently, University of Utah neurologists are piloting a program with rural emergency room personnel to provide emergency stroke treatment using real-time videoconferencing, teleradiology, and a secure Web site for vital patient information. Moran Eye Center experts also plan to use the system in the next six months to examine Navajo patients in remote areas for a potentially blinding retinal disease common in patients with diabetes.

Besides receiving medical support, health professionals and patients can participate in educational programs via the network. The Eccles Foundation grant will be used in part to increase the number and type of educational materials and programs available to network members. The Us Health Sciences Library is partnering with local libraries to provide access to electronic health information that will assist patients. Health professionals can receive continuing education programs through live video broadcasts and Web-based videostreams.

The U of U College of Nursing is teaching oncology doctorate students across the country using the same technology.

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