Long distance medical care program starts

Children in the Rogue Valley can now quickly be hooked up on-screen with the state's leading pediatric intensive-care physicians at Oregon Health & Science University via the Telemedicine Network, potentially saving a third of them from a long trip to Portland.

The Telemed link, supplied by OHSU, is in high-definition color with physicians at Doernbecher Children's Hospital able to pan and zoom the pole-mounted camera to examine patients and make rapid diagnoses — and decisions about whether they need to be flown to Portland for treatment, said physician Miles Ellenby, a professor and medical director of the Pediatric Telemedicine Program.

"The earlier system led to unnecessary transport of patients and discomfort levels for local physicians," said Ellenby.

Medford pediatrician Dr. R.D. Jones said the system will make a big difference for many patients.

"I'm excited," Jones said. "We've waited a long time for this to happen and it hopefully will relieve stress levels with critically ill patients who now have access to this expertise."

Demonstrating the new system with the physicians, Jan Freitas-Nichols, director of Women's and Children's Services at Doernbecher, which is a division of OHSU, said the system not only will cut patient travel but also cut physician travel. Doernbecher doctors take three- and four-day monthly trips to Medford for consultations and exams dealing with cardiology, hematology, endocrinology, nephrology, neo-natal care and other areas.

Now, Freitas-Nichols said, they can avoid the travel time because "with this, you're virtually in the room."

Telemed went online in 2007 between OHSU and Eugene's Sacred Heart Medical Center, resulting in a one-third drop in the number of children needing to travel to Portland. It uses dedicated, private lines and connects to Roseburg, McMinnville, Astoria, The Dalles, Ontario and Umatilla, the last two for direct psychiatric sessions.

The system went online first locally with pediatrics because of the urgency of many cases, most often dealing in respiratory problems, sepsis, seizures and trauma, said Ellenby, with other areas of medicine coming soon.

Also in the works is Telemed doctors' visits for stroke patients, Ellenby added, noting that response to stroke is so extremely time-critical that physicians believe "time is brain."

Treatment of acute strokes with thrombolytic drugs within three hours means a 30 percent better chance of surviving without disability. With Telemed, local ER doctors can confer with OHSU neurologists, review CT scans and create a treatment plan all in real time, cutting time and saving brain function.

Oregon's small cadre of pediatrics intensive-care physicians all work within five miles of each other in Portland, Ellenby says, and Telemed helps spread their services, technology and experience to the lesser populated areas of the state, where lower volume won't support such specialists.

The pediatric Telemed care is available around the clock to consult on treatment or arrange transport to Portland, he said.

Ellenby on Monday discussed the program before the monthly forum of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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