for Our Daily News Updates
By Allison Elliott
University of Kentucky
Somewhere in Kentucky, a patient checks in at the front desk of her local hospital’s memory or behavioral health clinic. The patient is concerned she may be having memory problems and, at the encouragement of family and friends, has booked an evaluation. A nurse greets the patient and takes her into an exam room.
“The doctor will be here in just a minute,” the nurse says. “Then your memory screening will begin.”
Suddenly the doctor is there – but he doesn’t enter via the door. Instead, a computer monitor in the room snaps to life and the face of Dr. Greg Jicha, neurologist at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging appears. Jicha, who works with Alzheimer’s and related cognitive disorders, is in Lexington but he is about to examine his patient through a system known as telemedicine, facilitated by Kentucky TeleCare at the University of Kentucky.
Jicha greets the patient and asks her several questions about her memory and puts her through some simple diagnostic tests. He can see the patient’s face, just as she can see his. The telemedicine equipment, consisting primarily of a two-way camera, monitor and microphone system, allows Jicha and the patient to interact face-to-face and in real time, having a conversation just as if they were sitting only inches apart. The nurse stays with the patient the entire time, observing and offering assistance when needed.
“State-of-the-art memory evaluations should not be limited to persons that are able to make the often long and arduous trip to Lexington,” said Jicha. “Taking advantage of internet technologies to bring expert care into even the smallest of rural communities is a blessing for many families across Kentucky that simply cannot bring a loved one with dementia to Lexington.”
Once the formal evaluation is done, Jicha talks with the patient about her results and about why she may be having trouble with memory. After the appointment is over, he contacts the patient’s hometown doctor to discuss whether she needs further diagnostic tests, and to consult about the best treatment plan possible for their patient.
This scene takes place several times a month, as physicians affiliated with the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging use telemedicine to work with health care professionals and patients at Kentucky clinics including: Harlan Appalachian Regional Health, the Hazard Center for Rural health, T.J. Sampson Hospital in Glasgow, Trover Clinic in Madisonville, Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah, Owensboro Medical Center and all of the St. Claire Hospital facilities. The Sanders-Brown/Kentucky TeleCare clinical outreach program began in 2005. In addition to clinical outreach, involved health care facilities also participate in regular educational outreach programs via Kentucky TeleCare, for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s.
The Kentucky TeleCare and Sanders-Brown clinical outreach program allows doctors at participating facilities to easily arrange consultations with Alzheimer’s experts at Sanders-Brown. The system also gives patients the opportunity to bring world-renowned experts in Alzheimer’s and memory disorders onto their care team, without having to travel too far from home to be seen.
“Optimizing care for a person with memory loss requires teamwork,” said Jicha. “The trusting relationship between a patient with dementia and their hometown doctor provides the foundation for establishing an entire care team that can really benefit from the expertise and resources of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.”