L'ANSE - With gasoline prices nearing $4 a gallon, long distance medical appointments can be costly, not to mention take time away from home and work.
In that case, more patients are opting for an alternative doctor visit.
Bonny Cotter, registered nurse for Baraga County Memorial Hospital, said BCMH is one of several sites in the Upper Peninsula which offers telemedicine services for patients who may need to see an out-of-town specialist or physician.
Bonny Cotter, registered nurse for Baraga County Memorial Hospital, demonstrates how to dial into their video conference system, which they use to facilitate medical consultations, educate health care practitioners and to educate the community on health care issues. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette ohoto by Kelly Fosness)
"Telemedicine, to me, is the ability for patients to be able to see a specialist without having to drive a long distance," Cotter said.
Like a regular doctor visit, Cotter said patients come in and register just as they normally would. After an initial assessment, Cotter said she then dials into the video conference system.
Once the connection is made, the physician appears on a large screen, allowing for real-time interaction. A microphone is placed near the patient for clear communication and the high-resolution camera provides for clear images during appointments.
"The camera resolution is of such high quality, if a physician wants to see a wound or incision, we can zoom in on that and it's just remarkable the quality of the picture you can see," Cotter said.
Depending on the nature of the visit, she said some physicians require that the patient be accompanied by a nurse.
"A lot of times I stay in the room with the patient as their nurse and as their advocate," she said. "If there's any labs, medications or diagnostic tests that the physician wants to order, I can take care of that. I can make sure that the medication gets to the patient that the lab tests get ordered ... I help to facilitate that."
If a physician wants to hear a patient's lungs or heart, Cotter said they have a stethoscope that hooks into the phone line.
While there are many advantages for patients who utilize telemedicine, Cotter said the biggest is cost savings.
"Sometimes one of these specialty visits may only be a five- or 10-minute visit," she said. "If it's a quick follow-up on a lab result, medication change, or test result they may have had, this saves them from having to drive to their specialist, usually in Marquette."
With high gasoline prices, traveling for medical appointments can be a real hardship for people, she said.
Cotter, who is also the telemedicine nurse, said BCMH established video conferencing capabilities in 1995 through the Upper Peninsula Telehealth Network, which is a collaborative venture among health care organizations.
According to the UPTN, the network includes multiple sites in the U.P., and the northern Great Lakes region. The network hub is based at Marquette General Health System.
In addition to facilitating medical consultations, Cotter said they use the video conference technology for staff education, administrative meetings and to educate the community on health care issues.
For example, she said there's a monthly breast cancer support group out of Marquette. The network allows for sites, like BCMH, to dial into the support group and participate if they choose.
"Here at Baraga, we utilize our video conferencing very heavily," Cotter said. "It's a real benefit to our community to have this."
UPTN Director Susan Makela agreed.
"The success of the network is directly related to the collaboration and partnerships we have with each other with a common goal of access to health care for patients in the U.P., that includes our families, friends and colleagues," she said.
For more information, visit mgh.org/telehealth/ index.html, or bcmh.org.