CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A new service at Hedrick Medical Center now allows patients to consult with a specialist from Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, without ever leaving Chillicothe. The Saint Luke's pilot program, eConsult, provides access to cardiologists and pulmonologists for admitted patients on an as-needed basis, and is designed to provide patients in rural hospitals with exceptional and specialized care, without leaving their communities.

While telemedicine systems are now more commonly used for scheduled tele-clinics and in emergency rooms, eConsult's use in the in-patient hospital setting is an innovative and cost-saving tool that is just recently beginning to gain ground.

In the past, Hedrick Medical Center physicians who diagnosed an immediate health concern—such as a needed cardiology specialist consult—would call for an ambulance and send the person to Kansas City for immediate treatment. Now with eConsult, local physicians and patients can consult with specialists in the Saint Luke's Health System easily and quickly. Using a mobile remote presence device that resembles an IV stand with a monitor attached, the innovative eConsult system allows Saint Luke's cardiologists and pulmonologists to speak directly with patients in their rooms—with their families and physicians present to discuss and ask questions.

"Our priority is always to give our patients the highest level of care," Hedrick Medical Center CEO Matt Wenzel said. "This is simply another way that we are delivering on that priority. We are providing access to the same doctors available to patients in the Kansas City metro, without the inconvenience of leaving home. It's important to us that we can give that level of care and convenience to our valued patients and community."

Using eConsult has the added benefit of avoiding the need to transfer a patient for a specialty consult. For families who don't need to travel, miss work, find childcare and possibly pay for lodging accommodations, keeping the patient in their home community is an invaluable benefit. For the hospitals and insurance carriers, eConsult helps avoid running duplicate tests and costly ambulance transfers. Since its inception in August, Hedrick Medical Center has been able to keep nearly 30 patients at the hospital using eConsult, instead of transferring them and their families to Kansas City.

Hedrick Medical Center physicians and patients alike have positive reviews for the new system. Its ease of use and convenience make it a well received addition to the hospital's services.

After being admitted to the hospital on Nov. 4 with chest pains, Carol Beth Kennedy was able to consult with a Kansas City-based cardiologist, Michelle L. Dew, M.D., from her hospital bed via eConsult.

"We're older and we don't drive in the city as well as we used to. It was just very convenient and efficient to be able to consult with Dr. Dew just 20 miles from my home," Kennedy said. In discussing the technological advances that make eConsult possible, she called it "mindboggling."

Provided and managed by a vendor partner, InTouch Health, the eConsult system at Hedrick Medical Center is on the leading edge of this rapidly growing technology. The eConsult system provides a safe and secure network that protects every patient's rights and privacy. Through its secure, FDA-cleared video interface, eConsult offers a picture so high quality and detailed that the specialist can even zoom in observe the patient's pupils, easily read monitors anywhere in the room, and listen the patient's heartbeat with a stethoscope.

Saint Luke's Health System plans to add more specialty care to the eConsult service in the next year, including endocrinology and oncology. Additionally, work has begun on expanding the service to other rural hospitals in and out of the system's network in Kansas and Missouri.