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TV screens connect MDs with patients

UMC physicians Jason Zerrer, right, and Bob Galli watch over patient care at Claiborne County Hospital through the TelEmergency system.(Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

[12/9/03]PORT GIBSON Lamarvin Schenall, on a bed in the emergency room in the Claiborne County Hospital, was treated by a doctor on a television screen.

“It’s a little different,” said Dr. Steve Creasey, speaking to a reporter from the same TV screen. “But through our training, it doesn’t feel that different.”

Schenall, 19, had been at home in Port Gibson when he began having seizures. His uncle drove him to the closest hospital, and the electronic link to University Medical Center was established.

The system is called TelEmergency and it helps extend the assets of the state’s largest emergency room to areas such as Port Gibson were there’s not a sufficient patient load to keep physicians on duty aroung the clock.

UMC is in Jackson, at least 45 minutes from the Claiborne County medical facility.

Through the television link, doctors at UMC zoom in and out to examine patients. They also speak with patients and hospital staff in the room as if they were there. X-rays and other diagnostic information can be transmitted, too.

Three nurse practitioners at the hospital provide the human connection between patients and doctors. Under guidance from the doctors, the practitioners perform necessary physical tasks.

Claiborne County Hospital Administrator Wanda Fleming said the hospital treats about 400 people each month. Doctors are on duty about half the time, and UMC staffs TelEmergency the rest of the time.

Since the project began, it has worked better than she thought possible, Fleming said.

“In the room there’s open communication among the patient, the nurse practitioner and the doctor at all times,” Fleming said.

Nurse practitioners and doctors go through extensive training to participate in TelEmergency. The nurse practitioners have to spend six months training at UMC’s emergency room.

Dana Dear, a family nurse practitioner with acute-care certification, said the hospital may be better off now than others with doctors on staff full time because all of the doctors at UMC involved in the program are emergency-room certified.

“Other hospitals have doctors, but they don’t have emergency-room-certified doctors,” said Dear, who began working with TelEmergency when it began at the hospital about a month ago.

The system helps in other ways, too.

When a patient needs immediate transport to the state’s only Level I Trauma Center at UMC in Jackson, the ER doctors in Jackson immediately dispatch a helicopter.

But Fleming also said the connection helps patients be treated while avoiding trips to larger hospitals.

Most of the equipment was provided through a combination of federal and private grants. Dr. Bob Galli, UMC professor and chairman of the emergency medicine department who helped develop TelEmergency, said the program cost between $375,000 and $1 million.

Fleming said the hospital had to buy a TV used for the video screen. “There’s no way we could have ever afforded this equipment,” she said.

Dr. Creasey, who treated Schenall for his seizures, said he’s getting used to treating his patients through the remote links.

Hospitals in Marks, Belzoni, Richton, Morton and Lexington also participate in the program. Hospitals in Magee and Macon are to begin at the first of the year.

“We can take one person here and spread him around to 10 to 20 sites,” Galli said. “We’re 200 miles away, yet we’re in the same room.”

Mississippi has the largest of the two TelEmergency programs in the country. The other is based in Houston and is connected with two hospitals, Galli said.