Telemedicine Improves Access to Specialty Care for Rural California Residents
To help expand access to medical specialists and cut costs for patients in rural California, clinics and hospitals have turned to telemedicine, the California Journal reports. Using "interactive video consultations" to diagnose and treat patients has helped "resolve some of the disparities between rural and urban health care," according to Priscilla Enriquez, co-director of the California Telehealth & Telemedicine Center. Noting that rural patients often have to "travel long distances" to urban areas and "endure long waits" for specialty care, Enriquez said, "[Telemedicine] has made specialty care more available to people who live in remote, medically underserved communities. From an economic standpoint, it saves money in terms of travel and time off from work." Using "specialized" equipment, including a high-resolution camera, patients at rural hospitals and clinics can be "electronically linked" to a medical expert, who conducts a "virtual visit." Schools unable to afford full-time nurses, nursing homes and correctional facilities lacking on-site physicians also are benefitting from telemedicine. Still, while telemedicine can "hold down" health care costs by reducing the number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions, the California Journal reports that telemedicine "does have its limitations." Dr. Tom Nesbitt, director of the University of California-Davis telemedicine program, which provides specialty care for patients at 20 to 30 sites per month, said that telemedicine "doesn't take the place of physicians" but "simply augments what they do." Nesbitt said, "It's limited to picture and sound. It won't take the place of a specialist manipulating a broken bone or a surgeon feeling someone's abdomen" (Rodriguez, California Journal, April 2001).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.