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Professor, grad students, explore telemedicine in article

by Sherry Fisher - October 16, 2006

An elderly patient with diabetes needs help with an insulin shot. He lives alone, in a rural community, about 20 miles from the nearest health care facility.

But he's in touch with health care professionals, thanks to a video phone that works on his telephone line. He calls his doctor, who also has a video phone, and they converse, face-to-face in real time.

"Telemedicine, also called telehealth, is the electronic delivery of health care. It includes the use of teleconferencing, video phones, electronic medical records, electronic stethoscopes, and cardiac monitoring," says Tom Miller, professor emeritus of allied health. "It gives access to health care to many people who would otherwise not have it."

Miller and four graduate students in allied health recently published an article on "Telehealth Home Health Applications for Adults with Developmental Disabilities," in Telemedicine and e-Health .

In the article, the students - an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a physician assistant, and a dietician - describe how they could use telehealth technology in their areas of specialization.

There has been increased use of video phones in home health care delivery in the past few years, particularly in rural areas, says Miller.

Nurses use video phones for adherence and compliance purposes, observing patients taking their medications, he says.

"They don't have to go out to the patients' houses. It's as simple as the nurse saying, 'We'd like you to take your medication now, and we'll take you through these steps to make sure you're taking it properly.'"

The article, written by Miller and his four students, outlines some of the benefits of tele-medicine.

Developmentally disabled adults, including those with learning, motor skill, and communication disorders, often live with their families or in special residential communities.

If they live in the country, receiving healthcare can be a problem, the article says.

Health care practitioners often find it difficult to travel to isolated areas, and, likewise, patients are often unable to travel to distant health care facilities.

That's where telelmedicine can help, say the authors. Health professionals can talk to each other, nurses can use the technology to quickly screen patients, and allied health personnel can consult with physicians.

The authors say that telehealth could even be used in physical therapy.

Clinicians at a small rural clinic might have to fit a patient with a special brace that requires instruction from a national clinic or hospital.

The staff could observe the application and fit of the brace and ask questions. And, say the authors, "most importantly, they have the opportunity to see the patient function with the new device."

Telehealth can also reduce costs for both patient and practitioner, the article states: "Clinics and hospitals are turning more and more to interactive websites to increase efficiency and reduce cost."

The article says physician's assistants and registered nurses, who are often in remote health care sites, are "ideal candidates to utilize telehealth in providing quality care to the patients they serve."

They evaluate patients, make diagnoses and devise treatment plans, manage medications, provide counseling, and monitor patients' progress.

The article adds that "situations that require consultation with supervising physicians or specialty consultants regarding complex cases are an essential component of successful utilization of the telehealth technology."

Miller, who also is a senior research scientist with UConn's Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), was named a 2006 University Teaching Fellow for his teaching and dedication to the profession.

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