Part One: High Tech Health Care On The Frontier

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Updated: Wed, 04 Dec 2013 04:35:53 CST

What happened to our small town doctors?  One in each community taking care of neighbors from cradle to grave?

Well in Nebraska, those doctors are now few and far between-- and it's not just that doctors don't want to practice general medicine.  But, in Nebraska, we're on the edge of a health care revolution.

While you may think high tech health care is only in hospitals like the Mayo Clinic or Mass Gen Hospital, technology may be even more important here in rural Nebraska.
One point eight million people living in Nebraska-- that's about 1/5 of New York City, but it's spread over 77,000 square miles.
"Because our people are so widely spread, it's hard to have a
physician, to have a hospital, in every community, in every county," said Dr. Jeffrey Harrison, UNMC's Rural Health Expert.
And with the vast majority of communities in Nebraska's 93 counties considered rural, there's many without a single doctor.  According to Dr. Harrison, when you break it down it takes:

-nearly 2,000 potential patients to support a Family Physician
-3,500 potential patients for a General Internist

-nearly 8,000 potential patients for a Pediatrician
-20,000 potential patients to support a Cardiologist

"A cardiologist in Blue Hill would starve to death," said Dr. Harrison.

Which means goodbye small town medicine... Hello regional healthcare.

"Mary Lanning, Saint Francis, Good Sam are all really strong regional referral centers and they really all act as a center for the next communities down," said Dr. Harrison.

And to provide the best access to those regional centers, hospitals like Good Samaritan are turning to technology. 

Instead of running to the doctor... Soon you could be running to the computer.  Welcome to the world of Tele Health.
"It allows us, our nurses and our doctors, to consult directly with the specialist that we're sending our patients to when they go down to Good Sam," said Melham Memorial Medical Center CEO and President Michael Steckler.
And it's not just for consultations, at Kearney Community Health Services, they have a Tele Trauma unit set up right in the Emergency Room.
Good Samaritan works with 24 different sites-- serving 19 hospitals in Nebraska and 5 in Kansas; providing an extra set of eyes for doctors in those small town hospitals.

"The camera can focus on the patient and can be brought right in to get a closer look at things in the ER and in the trauma," said Steckler.

And while speaking to Steckler all the way in Broken Bow via the Tele Health system, he said their 25
bed critical access hospital staff most frequently uses Tele Health to get patients ready for transport.

"The physician can say, well if you're going to send him, this is what we need to get done, you can start this on your end and we can get it going faster," said Steckler.
And hospitals use of Tele Medicine doesn't stop there.  On Part Two of High Tech Health Care On The Frontier we explore what's leading the way with Tele Health.