Would You Video Chat Your Doctor?

Why more north country residents are turning to "telemedicine"

Chances are, you’ve used apps like FaceTime or Skype to chat with friends or family members before, but what about video chatting with a doctor? As it turns out, many north country residents already are, through a process called telemedicine.

Though the technology and cameras used are much more sophisticated than a smart phone, telemedicine is, in essence, a secure video chat between doctor and patient.

It allows a patient to access a medical specialist hundreds of miles away without having to travel to see that specialist in person. The patient simply makes an appointment at their local hospital, doctor’s office or health center and — with the help of an on-site nurse or doctor — has a virtual appointment with the specialist on the other side of the screen.

telemedicine
A patient at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown talks with a wound care specialist on the other side of town via telemedicine. Photo is a screenshot from a broadcast on 7 News/Fox 28.

In the north country, telemedicine has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks to the work of the North Country Telehealth Partnership and the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. According to these two agencies, more than 1,700 telemedicine appointments have been recorded across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties since 2014, and more than 1,300 of those appointments occurred in 2016 alone.

Furthermore, there are more than 90 hospitals, provider offices and other health care professionals across the tri-county region actively engaged in telemedicine initiatives, offering services such as telepsychiatry, telestroke and teleneurology.

“Our telemedicine program is built on an access-to-care model,” said David C. Johnson, North Country Telehealth Partnership program coordinator. “Patients are gaining access to the care they need, when they need it, and where it is most convenient for them. While questions about reimbursement and regulatory restrictions remain challenges to the implementation of telemedicine, this is only the beginning of its success in our region. Telemedicine is becoming and will be an essential part of the standard way to deliver care.”

Health care providers, especially those focused on behavioral health, are also seeing the benefits of reduced “no-shows” and greater efficiency as they strive to provide the best possible care to their patients. In fact, fewer than 30 telemedicine appointments – or less than 2 percent – of the more than 1,700 recorded throughout the region have been flagged as incomplete.

Dr. Steven L. Lyndaker, founder of Lowville Medical Associates, can attest to these benefits. His practice was one of the first in the tri-county region to adopt telemedicine and it has recorded more than 230 telemedicine appointments to date.

“Convenient access to high-quality psychiatric care through our tele-psychiatry service has been the single most impactful FDRHPO initiative at Lowville Medical Associates over the past few years,” Dr. Lyndaker said. “Numerous patients have received timely care, avoiding considerable delay from time of referral to time of consult and thereby, quite honestly, reducing their emotional suffering.  I am so grateful to offer this option to some of the most vulnerable in our practice.”

Telemedicine capabilities are constantly expanding with the emergence of new technology. For instance, Mr. Johnson said, the region is close to securing a portable retinal camera, which will allow patients to receive telemedicine-based diabetic retinopathy screenings locally.

For more information about telemedicine in northern New York, visit www.telehealthny.org.

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