Future medicine may use videoconferencing

Shepherd explores options for remote treatment

A seamless continuum linking the Shepherd Center’s experts with patients, physicians, and other health care providers in other communities is the vision of the Atlanta-based specialty hospital’s telemedicine program.

Because spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries are relatively rare, most physicians and nurses, particularly in rural areas, have limited experience caring for severely injured patients.

With telemedicine, when a patient is injured, their local emergency room could be linked to Shepherd’s experts for advice on emergency care, says Ann Temkin, MA, ACSW, manager of Shepherd’s telemedicine program.

She foresees using audiovisual equipment to train and assist local practitioners in providing follow-up care after patients are discharged from Shepherd. "People are best assisted in their local community," she says.

Here are some other ways she envisions using telemedicine in the future:

Helping patients adjust to their equipment.

With today’s short lengths of stay, patients go home with a loaner wheelchair and face difficulties adjusting to and operating their new chair, or other equipment when it arrives. Telemedicine could help the patient avoid a trip back to Shepherd’s seating clinic.

Repairing equipment.

Patients in rural communities don’t have local resources if their equipment breaks. Temkin envisions helping patients get their technology repaired long distance by using telemedicine technology to train people in the patient’s community.

Introducing leisure activities.

Often, spinal cord patients are discharged before they are ready to think about anything beyond learning to live at home. Burns foresees using the Picasso to show people how to participate in hobbies or recreational activities by transmitting how-to-do-it photographs.

Reinforcing teaching such as skin care and bowel and bladder training for patients, families, or personal care attendants.

Patients have to learn so much in their short hospital stays that often they leave before they master all they need to know, Temkin says.

She envisions using the Picasso to supplement the manuals and videos patients get when they are dismissed.

"This way, they can have an actual person help them right when they need to know it," she says.

Enabling patients who got to know each other while they were at Shepherd to keep in touch after discharge.

"They can see each other and how they have modified and arranged their homes. It could really help a lot," she says.