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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Plan To Expand Telemedicine Programs Unveiled

Imagine that a stroke victim has just entered the emergency room of one of Vermont’s smaller hospitals. Immediate treatment is critical if several life saving drugs are going to be administered. The hospital has well trained emergency room doctors on staff but can’t afford to have a stroke neurologist.

They quickly turn on a two-way video system and dial up one the state’s leading stroke experts at Fletcher Allen who can make a visual evaluation of the patient and recommend a specific course of treatment.

"What [telemedicine] does is essentially takes the expertise of a stroke neurologist and brings it to our Central Vermont Medical Center ER." -CVMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phil Brown

This scenario is taking place now in some of Vermont’s larger hospitals on a case by case basis but its use is limited because Medicare and most insurance companies do not cover the costs of these video evaluations. 

But the practice of telemedicine in Vermont could be greatly expanded under a bill proposed by Congressman Peter Welch. Health officials say the legislation would allow the state’s rural hospitals to tap into the expertise of specialists at Fletcher Allen Health Care.  

“What [telemedicine] does is essentially takes the expertise of a stroke neurologist and brings it to our Central Vermont Medical Center ER,” said Dr. Phil Brown, chief medical officer at the Central Vermont Medical Center. “And ... this is a mobile unit that we can even bring to the bedside.”

During a demonstration of the video technology, Dr. Mark Gorman, a stroke neurologist at Fletcher Allen, appeared on the TV screen from his office in Burlington. He says the telemedicine program allows him to offer his expertise in every part of the state.

“To be able to practice medicine at the highest level possible not really limited by a more rural location as has always been the case,” said Gorman. “This ability now to really be able to have access to everything, So patients can really be treated at a very high level and still be able to stay in their communities.”

Congressman Welch says the use of telemedicine by critical care providers should be covered by Medicare and private health insurance companies and he says his bill will make the use of this video technology more cost effective. 

“This is something that should be a tool to provide care, particularly in rural areas where getting to and from the hospital can be a challenge,” said Welch. “And if health care is going to be successful then we’ve got to take advantage of new ways to deliver the service.”

Welch says the bill enjoys bi-partisan support and he’s hopeful that it will soon be considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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