Telemedicine may get $300K boost

Congressman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., left, listens to Ryan Spaulding, director of Telemedicine for Kansas University Medical Center, right, as Dr. Gary Doolittle, center, talks to a patient at Hays Medical Center using the tele-technology.

From a small conference room at Kansas University Hospital, Dr. Gary Doolittle can listen to the heartbeats of patients sitting 270 miles away, in Hays.

Thanks to a video-conferencing system and an electronic stethoscope, along with a host of other technology, Doolittle is able to treat cancer patients in western Kansas without either one of them making a four-hour drive.

On Wednesday afternoon, a roomful of state and KU Medical Center officials watched the technology at work, as Doolittle talked to Hays resident Mitch Berens, who is suffering from melanoma.

“It’s nice to be on the same page and not have to jump into a new doctor’s office,” Berens said.

The gathering – which included KUMC Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Atkinson, KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway and KU Hospital President and CEO Bob Page – was sparked by a visit from U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

Moran has requested a $300,000 earmark in the federal budget to expand KUMC’s telemedicine and telehealth program. The appropriation was approved in the House and still has to pass the Senate. Moran represents Kansas’ First Congressional District, which stretches from the Colorado border to as close as Wabaunsee County, just on the other side of Topeka.

If the appropriation comes through, KU Medical Center’s hope is to expand the number of telemedicine sites and offer more services through them. Among the added features would be cancer prevention programs, KUMC spokeswoman Amy Jordan Wooden said.

Along with providing better medical services to Kansans, Moran said the money could help the KU Medical Center achieve designation as a National Cancer Institute.

Setting up a telemedicine site, such as the one at KU Hospital, costs about $15,000.

Right now, KU Medical Center has telemedicine connections in 60 to 70 sites throughout the state. They are used for many fields of medicine, ranging from psychiatry to diet and nutrition.

Along with listening to heartbeats, doctors have the technology to check out ears and throats and look at X-rays miles from where their patients are. Doctors can watch patients’ facial expressions as they talk about pain and are able to examine sores and spots.

In Lawrence, there is a telemedicine connection that is used for educational purposes, said Ryan Spaulding, director of the center for Telemedicine and Telehealth.

Spaulding said despite the distance, research shows that doctor visits via video-conferencing don’t diminish the doctor/patient relationship.

“The rapport isn’t reduced,” Spaulding said.