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Tech grant to aid rural health care By David Pittman | MORRIS NEWS SERVICE Sunday, July 26, 2009 Story last updated at 7/26/2009 - 1:38 amStratford will be the first of several cities in the Texas Panhandle to benefit from a recent state grant to increase health care access in rural towns.Texas Tech's F.

Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health received a $6.7 million grant to establish 30 sites to connect urban doctors with rural patients via telecommunications technology."We hope to have all the sites identified and equipment installed in the next 12 to 18 months," said Debbie Voyles, Tech's director of telemedicine.The technology allows doctors in large cities to see, talk to and treat patients in outlying towns several hundred miles away in real time via the Internet and video conferencing.

Physicians can listen to a patient's heart, view a medical history and X-rays and order tests while a patient and nurse sit in a rural clinic.Telemedicine is an effective way to overcome barriers to care, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says.One hundred thirty-nine of Texas' 254 counties did not have a general pediatrician in 2006, the state agency wrote in a proposal.

Of those 139 counties, 119 were deemed rural.For a county with no hospital and no physicians, Stratford and Sherman County make an ideal candidate for telemedicine."We are so geographically isolated, even though we're less than an hour from Dumas, less than an hour from Dalhart and an hour from Perryton," said Ward Palmer, nurse practitioner for the Stratford Family Medical Clinic, the future home of the technology.

"There are no true sub specialists and few specialists in those towns."With a telemedicine site, patients and practitioners in Stratford can access the highly specialized doctors Tech offers in Amarillo and Lubbock.Palmer couldn't say for certain how many, when or who will use the equipment after it's installed next month."I think it's going to be busy," he said.Voyles expects the Stratford site to be operational by the end of next month.In searching for communities to outfit this equipment with, Voyles and other officials at Tech are looking for rural counties with high numbers of children enrolled in Medicaid but limited or no pediatric health services."We're concentrating on communities that may have a rural health clinic that has no access to pediatric specialties or sub-specialties," Voyles said.The money for the program comes from $150 million state lawmakers set aside in the 2008-09 budget to expand children's access to Medicaid services in the state.

The 30 future sites will be selected from the 105 West Texas counties from Amarillo to El Paso that Tech defines as its service region, Voyles said.Texas Tech installed telemedicine sites in Wellington and Friona in December thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Office of Rural Community Affairs.However, doctors in those rural areas have been hesitant to use the technology, Voyles said.Equipment for the rural sites costs from $35,000 to $40,000.HEALTH/$6.7 million grant will establish 30 rural telemedicine sitesSponsored Links
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