Prmc's Telemedicine Program Expands

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A new program at Payson Regional Medical Center will now allow rural residents with movement disorders to have access to medical specialists from Good Samaritan Hospital without driving to the Valley.

Though PRMC has been using telemedicine since 1996, the movement disorders program is the latest addition to the program.

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The efforts of Herb Schwager, Ph.D., (left) have enabled Payson Regional Medical Center to continue developing its telemedicine program. The program recently expanded to allow rural residents with movement disorders to have access to medical specialists from Good Samaritan Hospital without driving to the Valley.

Herb Schwager, Ph.D., whose efforts over the last several years have enabled PRMC to continue developing the telemedicine program, believes many of his patients, who suffer from chronic pain, will benefit from this latest addition to the program.

"First, the program allows the patient to see a specialist sooner, and second, the consulting doctor is supplied with the patient's case history and has studied the case in advance of the session," Schwager said. "That familiarity translates well to the patient."

Doctors from Good Samaritan Hospital recently tested their telemedicine program at PRMC, which allows patients to be remotely examined by specialists who can then order diagnostics tests and prescribe medications.

Neurosurgeon Daniel Lieberman, M.D. and Neurologist Padma Mahant, M.D. opened the newest form of telemedicine in December when the two assessed a central Arizona man for movement disabilities as part of Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center's Movement Disorders Clinic via a closed-circuit, two-way video link with PRMC.

A recent press release described the program and its benefits.

"I'm grateful that we are able to provide this outreach program to many Arizona residents," Mahant said. "It's such a benefit for the patients because they have the comfort of being in their hometown without the stress of having to trek into Phoenix for an examination."

Mahant also stated that many people with movement disorders are not able to travel long distances and telemedicine could be their only way to be examined by a specialist.

The video assessment was directed at Good Samaritan by Mark Smith, MD.

"Many providers in remote areas need, but have no access to subspecialty support," Smith said. "At Good Samaritan, we have a vast concentration of specialists and resources and the program can help support providers and patients over the rest of the state."

"In addition," Smith said, "Often patients in underserved or remote areas have no healthcare resources at all, and this will help to bring support to those areas."

Schwager believes residents of Payson are fortunate.

"PRMC is fortunate enough to have many specialists where a lot of the rural hospitals that are participating in the telemedicine program don't," Schwager said.

"We're actually able to provide these same kinds of services to rural Arizona hospitals from PRMC. So just like a patient who is evaluated by a service in Phoenix that we don't have, we can do the same for the other rural hospitals that lack services we have at PRMC."

"The other thing that is particularly interesting is that the providers -- the docs -- like to do this," Schwager said. "It is much easier to go to this studio environment and see patients -- no waiting room -- no hustle-bustle."

PRMC was a pioneering force in getting insurance companies to reimburse the telemedicine consults the same way in which a regular doctor's appointment is paid.

"It is billed and reimbursed in the same way as a face-to-face office visit." Schwager said

PRMC's Chief Executive Officer Chris Wolf, believes in the benefits of telemedicine and plans on continuing its expansion.

"For a rural community to have experts like those we are connected with through this technology is phenomenal," Wolf said. "It is state of the art for a rural community."

"This technology is advancing so fast," Wolf said.

"Now that we have gotten many of the bugs worked out, the program is really getting rolling and will continue evolving."

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