A Nephrologist at Your Fingertips

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By Allyson Westover

 For the patients at DaVita’s Northumberland Dialysis Center in Mount Carmel, Penn., quick and easy access to a nephrologist is rarely an issue. Unexpected health troubles? Schedule changes? Inclement weather? No problem. The dialysis center nurse simply wheels over a cart equipped with a screen, mobile camera and headset. Within minutes, the patient is connected to a nephrologist at nearby Geisinger Medical Center without ever leaving the chair.

That’s because Northumberland is the first of several DaVita clinics planned to connect with Geisinger Health System to develop a telemedicine program for dialysis.

“It’s great. If there’s a one-off health issue, we can call the physician, link up, and have a one-on-one visit with the patient right away,” said Terry Diak, the group facility administrator for Northumberland Dialysis and five other DaVita dialysis centers in central Pennsylvania. “We might save an ER visit by having a physician on line.”

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) defines telemedicine as, “delivery of any healthcare service or transmission of wellness information using telecommunications technology.”

Examples of telemedicine include videoconferencing, transmission of still images, and remote monitoring of vital signs.

For health professionals, telemedicine allows doctors and hospitals to deliver specialty care in underserved regions; compensates for shortages of specialists; increases speed of diagnosis; and improves ability to deliver high-quality care. For patients and family members, telemedicine reduces travel time, costs, and stress; minimizes time away from work; brings medical services closer to home; and offers access to providers who may otherwise be unavailable.

The ATA also points out that advancements in health information technology, such as electronic health record (EHR) systems and related technologies, make providing patient care easier and more efficient, regardless of location.

“Electronic records and IT systems mean little to the healthcare consumer if they aren’t integrated into the delivery of actual patient services,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the ATA in a statement earlier this spring. “The government has its own definition, but for patients, ‘meaningful use’ means telemedicine.”

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