CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Health care officials say telemedicine services at Charleston Area Medical Center are increasing and providing people the opportunity to receive medical attention without having to leave their hometowns.

“Patients really like it, and so do their health care providers,” said Barbara McKee, associate director of the Partners in Health Network. “When the patient is seen, they frequently have their primary care provider with them, and they develop a plan of care where the patient’s involved, their primary care provider at the rural community facility and the specialist all decide on a plan of care.”

Health care facilities use communication technology to connect with patients in other communities as part of telemedicine efforts.The CAMC telemedicine initiative began in 1994, but resurfaced in 2015 due to what McKee described as a “golden opportunity” with federal grants.

“There’s a lot of wireless internet protocol,” she said. “Being able to place equipment at rural community hospitals, critical access hospitals, federally-qualified clinics, places where specialty services and care that’s beyond primary care can be delivered via technology.”

One initiative CAMC has to utilize telemedicine is in regards to testing for diabetes, in which a doctor based in Charleston uses a retinal camera to test for diabetes. Another effort is the stroke program, in which neurologists in Charleston can connect to doctors in rural hospitals about proper stroke treatment.

An infectious disease physician began two weeks ago providing services to inmates in the Indiana prison system. According to Jeff Goode, vice president of ambulatory services at CAMC, the doctor sees between 15 and 20 people a session.

“We have been working with a company that has a contract with the prison systems in West Virginia and we’ve been doing telemedicine within the state of West Virginia with that company,” he said. “The model has just worked so well that this company also has the state of Indiana as a client, so we worked with them on understanding their need.”

The doctor has received a license to work in Indiana and performs multiple weekly sessions.

McKee said through telemedicine, money spent on health care is able to stay in local communities rather than people having to drive to other areas to receive treatment.

“Labs are done there, x-rays are done, prescriptions are filled,” she said. “The patient is really managed in their home community while they’re having access to high-quality specialists.”

CAMC can seek reimbursement for treatment, with McKee saying the federal government has slowly realized the importance of the program.

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