Owensboro Health has received a $460,820 federal grant for a new telemedicine project that will allow regional patients to consult with the health system's specialists without making a trip to Owensboro.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will provide telecommunications units at 10 sites. Cities with access to OH telehealth services will be Greenville, Powderly, Calhoun, Madisonville, Beaver Dam and Tell City, Indiana.

If all goes well, the new service may be available within the next four months, said Dr. David Danhauer, OH chief medical information officer.

He leads the OH team that has worked on the initiative for up to five years.

Without the federal grant, it would have taken much longer for the project to become a reality, Danhauer said. The grant allows OH to install the high-tech equipment needed in one fell swoop, as opposed to stretching it out over a period of years.

"Our goal for Owensboro Health is making sure we get care where patients are," he said.

Transportation is often a barrier to care in western Kentucky.

"This grant will open new doors for Owensboro Health to carry our mission into every corner of our region, improving access and lowering costs for the people we serve," Greg Strahan, president and CEO, said in a press release. "An expanded telemedicine program is the kind of innovation that can transform rural health care by allowing people to receive high-quality care close to home."

Strahan praised U.S. Reps. James Comer and Brett Guthrie for their support in securing the grant.

" ... I have seen firsthand how telemedicine is the future of patient care," Guthrie said in a press release. "This grant money will allow rural Kentuckians to have faster, more affordable access to health care services."

If nearly 2,000 patients in the proposed five-county region use one telehealth visit annually, OH officials estimate it will save patients a total of more than $104,000 in travel expenses and about 2,200 hours of travel time.

Another benefit of telemedicine: It allows OH specialists to stay in their home offices more, which means less disruption in their workdays, Danhauer said.

Telemedicine visits will work like this: Patients will make appointments through their primary care providers' offices in their hometowns or sites closest to them. Instead of driving to Owensboro, they will travel to one of 10 sites to consult with a specialist.

In preparation for offering these services, OH has been conducting IT work and installing the project's needed infrastructure for some time. The grant will provide the remainder of the equipment. Danhauer expects the federal grant to pick up all the rest of the expenses for this phase of the project.

The telemedicine system will provide point-to-point access — or medical location to medical location. It was developed for specialized care visits, not for seeing patients who suffer from colds or the flu. However, OH already is working on providing patients with home access to telemedicine.

"Many of my constituents rely on rural telehealth services to coordinate their health care needs," Comer said. "And these grant funds for Owensboro Health will go toward accomplishing just that in Hopkins, McLean, Muhlenberg and Ohio counties in Kentucky's 1st District. I was glad to have the opportunity to work with USDA to support (OH's) application, and I'm eager to see the improvements to patient treatment through this funding."

TELEHEALTH SITES

The Owensboro Health Telehealth Project will be available at these sites:

OH Muhlenberg Community Hospital and Muhlenberg Medical Building, Greenville

OH Muhlenberg Healthplex, Powderly

OH Madisonville Healthplex and OH Health Multicare, Madisonville

Family Medicine, Beaver Dam, Calhoun and Tell City, Indiana

Sports Medicine/Surgical Specialists, Tell City

Oncology/Wound Center, Beaver Dam

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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