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Telemedicine Goes the Distance

January 27, 2016

A mother called Baystate Medical Practices - Pioneer Valley Family Medicine wanting to set an appointment as soon as possible. Her baby daughter had a worsening eye infection. Could she come in now, asked the practice? Snow was flying, the roads were iffy, and the mother and daughter were almost an hour away.

“It didn’t make sense for them to drive 45 minutes for a 5 minute appointment,” says Dr. Adam Garretson, medical director for BMP - Pioneer Valley Family Medicine. “So we used our pilot telemedicine system. We conducted the exam online, confirmed conjunctivitis, and recommended treatment.”

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine, or the use of devices like smart phones and computers to deliver health care remotely, is used by over 50% of U.S. hospitals to better manage care, lower costs, and improve access. It can save time and get patients seen faster.

Baystate Health started its pilot program this past November in conjunction with Baystate’s innovation center, TechSpring, and their sponsor, Dell. Together, TechSpring and Dell set out to test technology that “matched the right solution with the challenge,” says Christian Lagier, director of TechSpring “This pilot couldn’t be a blue sky theory or fancy gizmo. It had to be practical.”

Techspring and Dell chose to partner and test with Praxify, a telemedicine vendor. So far, says Garretson, “feedback has been positive.” Garretson has taken advantage of Praxify’s features like the ability to make drawings, and share and refer to online illustrations, photos, and videos.

The Right Technology Makes All the Difference

“Telemedicine is best for my established patients, those with whom I have a strong rapport,” explains Garretson, “And for when I don’t need to see the patients: things like educating, adjusting medications, and monitoring symptoms.”

The pilot has also led to an understanding of what makes telemedicine work best. The right technology makes all the difference.

“Patient privacy is a must,” says Garretson, “Email, texting, and Skype are not considered as secure. In addition, it is important that smart phones and computers have good cameras, and there is good lighting on the patient. The sound system has to work well. The better the microphone and speakers, the easier it is to communicate.”

But telemedicine is not for everybody and every situation. Garretson doesn’t recommend it for new patients, complicated issues, or if he needs to get a really good look at something, like a skin lesion. “There is no substitute for face-to-face appointments, when needed.”

Still, the pilot has been successful enough to expand. Other Baystate providers and the Baystate Pharmacy team are now on board, and Garretson will soon expand his number of telemedicine patients.

“This is a perfect example of Baystate’s commitment to better patient care through the right experimentation,” says Lagier, “Who knows where it will lead? We are already looking at similar technologies, like remote monitoring and health care kiosks.”

It is, as Garretson puts it, “a patient satisfier.”