Virtual house calls


Published Sunday, May 01, 2011. Online Athens. Athens Banner-Herald Richard Hamm


Some doctors already use the Internet’s ability to provide almost-instant communication to help treat patients. Richard Hamm || Dr. Toby Bond demonstrates how telemedicine can work last week at his office at TMB Medical Associates on Daniells Bridge Road.


But as technology improves, advances in

telemedicine are moving more and more doctor-patient consultations into the virtual world.

“This is the future of medicine,” said Dr. Toby Bond with TMB Medical in Athens. “This is going to be the standard of care.”

Bond already gives his patients secure access to view lab results and medications online, and soon will start using a program that will allow him to meet with patients through a teleconferencing program known as Smart House Calls.

“We’re just rolling this out right now,” Bond said.

Smart House Calls will allow doctors to meet patients for follow-up exams, give families access to their doctors back home as they travel and allow physicians to give quick advice on medical issues, said Troy Heidesch, the CEO and founder of the company based out of Oconee County.

“This is not to replace the doctor-patient exam,” Heidesch said.

Heidesch thinks that technology could help lower health care costs and provide more efficient communications between patients and doctors, he said.

St. Mary’s Hospital already uses technology to help some patients with chronic diseases such as heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Patients learn to self-manage through daily transmission of their weight, blood pressure and symptoms into a machine that relays that information to home care staff, said Shelley Nichols, St. Mary’s stroke coordinator and a registered nurse.

“They’re able to get help on a daily basis and many times their medicines or treatment plan can be updated with physician input over the phone to avoid re-hospitalization,” she said. “It’s like having a nurse in your home daily to keep you well, safe and able to manage your disease without going back into the hospital.”

St. Mary’s also uses telemedicine to help monitor stroke patients, through a partnership with the Medical College of Georgia’s REACH program, said Dr. McCord Smith, a neuro-hospitalist and certified vascular neurologist.

“Our REACH program is without a doubt one of the top three systems in the world as far as how it works and the number of people treated through it,” Smith said.

Patients who receive clot-busting drugs within three hours of a stroke can recover faster and have better outcomes than patients who don’t receive the medication, he said.

Although the drug works, neurologists must watch the patient for any adverse effects, he said.

“The first thing that people discovered was that there weren’t enough neurologists around to look over these programs,” he said.

REACH gives hospitals, like St. Mary’s, the opportunity to augment on-site neuro-hospitalists with virtual neurologists and pool information, assisted by nurses and emergency room staff, Nichols said.

“We really have the best of both worlds,” she said.

Neurologists have jumped on telemedicine and developed programs to suit their needs, but it’s only a matter of time before other specialties find ways to use the technology for their fields, Smith said.

“I actually think it’s sort of hard for us to imagine how much it will be used (in the future),” Smith said.

As more and more baby boomers age, there will be a greater need for doctors, Smith said.

“The baby boomers are about to put a big drain on medical resources,” he said. “I think telemedicine is … a creative way to address those problems of inadequate access.”



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