When the lone doctor is out, telemedicine keeps this ER running

From the Chronicle:

Finding doctors to hire is one piece of the puzzle. This summer, staff in Van Horn’s 14-bed Culberson Hospital decided to try something new to address it. They are using telemedicine to treat trauma patients.

The set-up is unique: to be licensed as a basic-level trauma facility, the state requires that a physician be no more than 30 minutes away. With telemedicine equipment installed in Van Horn, the state waived that stipulation.

Like other uses of the technology, which until last year was tightly regulated in Texas, this way of doing things stands to have significant effects. The doctor lives a little less frantically. Nurses have immediate back-up. The hospital does not need to hire expensive contract physicians when the doctor goes out of town.

When a patient arrives in Van Horn, staff in either of two trauma rooms can push a big button to connect with an office building in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A nurse there promptly appears on a large screen and, in a sort of high-tech Skype call, can loop in a doctor to help oversee care.

“What that signals is a way forward to keep those hospitals up and running 24/7, as they need to be,” said Nora Belcher, executive director of the Texas e-Health Alliance, a trade association.

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