Mon, March 30

Telemedicine coming to the Verde Valley
Mini Medical Schools will kick off partnership program

Yavapai College and the University of Arizona are working jointly to bring the leading edge of health care delivery into the Verde Valley. Telemedicine could have a huge impact on everything from training health care workers and educating the public to diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The first phase of this partnership will begin in April with a series of Mini Medical Schools. The schools will cover a wide range of issues, including possible topics such as bird flu, diabetes and women's health issues.

A preview of how this technology works was given to education officials, community leaders and area health care providers Monday via teleconference at the Sedona campus of Yavapai College. A conference room in the Sedona Center was hooked up with physicians at the U of A Medical School in Tucson.

Dr. Ronald Weinstein, director of the U of A Telemedicine Program, gave an overview of how telemedicine works and what it can provide. He then answered questions from local participants.

"This is more than dialogue," said Donna Michaels, Yavapai College board member. She said this begins a new chapter for Yavapai College.

Michaels said one of the primary missions of the college is to look at workforce opportunities. She said the college is interested in learning how the telemedicine program can be used here. "Allied health care is clearly at the top of the list," she said.

James Horton, president of Yavapai College, said main areas of interest for the college are health care education for training nurses and providing continuing education.

In fact, Horton said a conference room at the Sedona Center is being set up now to conduct telemedicine conferences for 60 to 80 people. Horton told the participants in Monday's conference that the room will be ready in six weeks.

During the conference, Weinstein committed to scheduling six Mini Medical Schools beginning in April. The medical experts will present their topics from a remote location, such as the medical school in Tucson. Participants will be watching and asking questions from the conference room on the Sedona campus.

Exact dates, times and topics will be determined later. But Sedona physician Dr. Dan Goldsmith said he would like to see "anything that would affect a large number of people." He said topics such as high blood pressure, diabetes and routine screening would all be helpful.

A big plus for Yavapai College is that the U of A isn't looking for fees from the college. Instead, Weinstein said the program's existing revenue sources -- such as grants -- would be enhanced through expansion of the university's telemedicine network.

Weinstein explained that the program began in 1996 and now serves 160 sites within the network, including all 29,000 inmates in Arizona's prison system.

One of the biggest advantages to the technology, however, is improvement of health care. Weinstein said communication within the current health care system must improve. He said health care professionals and organizations do not share information.

"That has to change," Weinstein said. "Health care in America is not what it should be. You are not getting your money's worth."

As an example of poor communication, Weinstein said there are 403 diabetes organizations in Arizona, but they do not share information. The technology used in the telemedicine program can vastly improve that situation, according to Weinstein.

Michaels sees the program ultimately helping with actual delivery of health care in the Verde Valley. She said one ultimate goal through the collaboration could be consultation and diagnosis. "(It is) a way to serve doctors in rural communities and to help with their continuing education."

"I'm really excited about this," Michaels said. "It will have an immense impact."

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