Illinois Lieutenant Governor Touts Telemedicine at SIU Center in Quincy
Illinois lieutenant governor touts telemedicine at SIU center in Quincy
By Matt Hopf Herald-Whig
QUINCY -- Dr. Robert Abrams admits not being part of the younger generation familiar with FaceTime and Skype, so it took time for him to adjust to working with patients through telemedicine.
"I prefer a face-to-face contact, but all the studies show that the patient satisfaction is just as high -- if not higher -- if they don't have to travel two hours," said Abrams, the associate professor and division chief for maternal-fetal medicine at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
Abrams highlighted the benefits of Telehealth, the medical school's telemedicine network Monday afternoon as Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti toured the SIU Center for Family Medicine Quincy. Abrams was speaking to her from Springfield.
Abrams has driven to Quincy almost every Thursday for nine years to see patients.
"It's a two-hour drive each way, and it's not an effective way to see patients," he said. "Now, we're able to see patients over Telehealth. We're expanding to Jacksonville, Macomb and Litchfield, so we're really trying to make it accessible for patients and ultimately provide them with the best obstetrical care and the safest."
Telehealth is expected to be available in Quincy within a month. Telehealth clinical specialists are in about 20 communities in the state. The service allows for more specialists to visit remotely with patients who might not be able travel to a specialist because of transportation and medical issues. Doctors are able to get results of tests they would perform if they were in the room.
Sanguinetti praised SIU and its Telehealth expansion for bringing specialized medical access to rural communities.
"I've heard from residents saying that they feel anything south of I-80 is not only forgotten, but simply deleted," she said. "Now with telemedicine, everybody has access and that opportunity to see a world-class doctor."
Visiting every county in Illinois as head of the Governor's Rural Affairs Council, Sanguinetti learned that access to specialized care was unavailable.
"(Telehealth is) something that's been needed in rural Illinois for a really long time, as well as many other things that are needed," she said. "As you heard, the hope is to open up more facilities, and over time, even make it into homeless shelters where people still need access to world-class medical care."
Sanguinetti noted that Telehealth can help improve clinical outcomes and reduce costs, though some Medicaid barriers remain between the state and federal governments.
"We're trying to eliminate those hurdles legislatively," she said.
Telehealth Executive Director Nina Antoniotti noted how the TeleStroke service offered through SIU is improving health care outcomes in rural communities because a stroke neurologist is able to see patients earlier without transportation.
"Within 20 minutes of that patient hitting the door, they can actually be getting the (thrombotic) drug administered," Antoniotti said. "What we see in community-based hospitals who implement TeleStroke is, the treatment rates go up 60 and 70 percent."
Early treatment helps provide earlier and quicker recovery times.
Speaking with the media after Monday's presentation, Sanguinetti said she hoped the Legislature would make progress this week on the state budget. The state now has a bill backlog of bills approaching $13 billion as legislators and the governor are locked in a stalemate that is nearly 2 years old.
"I think the budget crisis makes it difficult for everyone," she said. "I think we see our social services safety net shredding, and this is why we have to get down to business and reach that budget.
"I'm a product of the social service safety net. It saved me, so personally, I know how important that it is."