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Teleoncology Improves Access to Care for Rural Patients: As Utilization Goes Up, Costs Go Down

Teleoncology Improves Access to Care for Rural Patients: As Utilization Goes Up, Costs Go Down

ABSTRACT: In rural areas, access to quality cancer care is especially challenging. The cumbersome process of traveling long distances for care is exacerbated by the symptoms associated with disease, leaving many rural cancer patients undertreated. However, a relatively new telecommunication technology offers one way to overcome the geographic barriers faced by rural Americans. Cancer Care & Economics (CC&E) spoke with Ryan J. Spaulding, PhD, director of the Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth at Kansas University Medical Center (KUMC), Kansas City, about how telemedicine helps serve patients in rural Kansas.

CC&E: Please briefly describe your position at the Kansas University Center for Telemedicine & Telehealth.

DR. SPAULDING: For the past 5 years, I have been the director of operations for the Center, administering all telehealth projects, research activities, and daily operations. I work closely with our medical liaison, Gary C. Doolittle, MD, who is an oncologist. Dr. Doolittle also provides teleoncology consultations. We have been delivering telemedicine in Kansas since 1991.

CC&E: What inspired the development of the Telemedicine Center?

DR. SPAULDING: During the first Gulf War, a pediatrician from Hays, Kansas, which is about 300 miles west of Kansas City, saw a news story about the military using telemedicine equipment, and he thought, "Well, why can't we do that in Kansas?" He contacted the KU Medical Center, and we started researching the potential; we eventually put together a single telehealth connection to Hays Medical Center. This technology hadn't been used to a great extent for health care before that.

CC&E: In a nutshell, what kind of technology is involved in delivering telemedicine?

DR. SPAULDING: The technologies depend on the type of clinical service being delivered, but generally we use high-end video conferencing equipment to allow the health care providers to talk directly to the patient. We supplement that video conferencing equipment with electronic peripheral devices, such as otoscopes, electronic stethoscopes, and general examination cameras. In effect, patients can be examined much like in an office visit.

CC&E: What kind of learning curve do patients need in order to utilize the technology involved in telemedicine?

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