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Telehealth Reaches Rural Georgians

September 3, 2013
Originally published Feb. 27, 2012
 
Times have changed, and so has technology. With such advances in the technological realm, the Southeast Health District has become a leader in telemedicine. As it has grown, it has helped connect more people in rural communities to vital Public Health services. 
 
Telemedicine began in the Southeast Health District (SEHD) in 1993, when the Ware County Health Department became a site in the Georgia Statewide Academic and Medical System (GSAMS) videoconferencing network. Services provided over GSAMS included HIV consultations, Children's Medical Services clinics (Genetics, Asthma/Pulmonology, and consults for other pediatric specialties), and Babies Can't Wait multidisciplinary team evaluations. 
 
In 2000, the Southeast Telehealth Network was formed, and funding was received from HRSA's Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT). The grant allowed the district to develop its own videoconferencing network in multiple sites throughout the district. 
 
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit and fuel prices soared, videoconferencing became the standard for communication, instead of face-to-face meetings.  
 
In recent years, WIC became involved in videoconferencing when its staff began using the network for service provision in a pilot project geared towards optimizing staff time shared between clinics and travel expenses. The success of the pilot prompted the WIC program to expand the network to other Public Health Districts throughout the state. 
 
In 2009, a pilot school-based teledentistry clinic was established to provide services to children who may otherwise not receive dental care. The district received once again funding through HRSA's OAT to expand the teledentistry project into additional schools, where services are currently offered. 
 
Expansion continues with Telehealth capabilities in every clinic and facility in the District.  
 
Currently, videoconferencing in the Southeast Health District is used for the following: 
  • Medical consultations for HIV patients
  • Children's Medical Services pediatric specialty clinics (Asthma/Pulmonology, Developmental, Genetics, and Neurosurgery) through Georgia Health Sciences University Pediatrics and University of Florida/Shands hospital
  • Babies Can't Wait therapy consultations and team meetings
  • School-based teledentistry clinics
  • Emergency preparedness and response connectivity for counties to the district operations center, local emergency management agencies and other community partners
  • Workforce development
  • Administrative activities such as staff meetings, employment interviews, board of health meetings and budget meetings
Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) recently joined Southeast Public Health Director Rosemarie Parks, M.D., and Southeast Health District Telehealth Coordinator Jackie Woodard for a telehealth demonstration.  Dr. Fitzgerald told PHWEEK that she was assured of the outstanding work in Southeast Health District.  
 
"The role of teledentisty and telemedicine is vital to reaching all of Georgia,," said Commissioner Fitzgerald.  "here, children get excited seeing their teeth on the TV monitor.  We can screen them right there in their own schools and communities and then refer them to local doctors."