Telemedicine helps Grand Junction patients connect with Denver docs

Ryan Haddon is just a screen, camera and broadband connection away from his neurologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.

Six months ago, the 6-year-old from Grand Junction would have had to hop in the car for an eight-hour round trip to see Dr. Carolyn Green at Children’s Hospital, or Green would have had to fly or drive to Grand Junction for her monthly visits with Ryan and his mother, Natasha Chatterton. Since June, though, Green and others at Children’s Hospital have started using telemedicine conferencing to keep long-distance appointments in Grand Junction.

Local patients such as Ryan, who was diagnosed with epilepsy this summer, connect to the hospital through a screen at the Mesa County Health Department, 510 29 1/2 Road. The teleconferencing system works like an advanced version of Skype or Face Time, sending a clear picture and audio of the patient and the doctor from the Health Department to the hospital and back.

Ryan and Chatterton have used the technology for three months. Chatterton said St. Mary’s Hospital referred her son to Green because she was told no neurologist in Grand Junction would treat a child with epilepsy under the age of 15.

“As a single mom, I can’t drive to Denver every time. It really does help,” Chatterton said.

Children’s Hospital sees patients through teleconferencing in Grand Junction, Montrose, Durango, Alamosa and other parts of Colorado and the West. A recent $10,000 donation from the AT&T Foundation allowed the hospital to expand its telemedicine program.

Samantha Lippolis, outreach coordinator for Children’s Hospital, said telemedicine helped a variety of communities, and the hospital hopes to add pulmonary and diabetes follow-up appointment services in various towns next year.

“The telemedicine program helps us bridge the gap in rural areas where they don’t have access to specialists,” she said.

The appointments aren’t quite the same as an in-person visit with a doctor, Chatterton said, but they’re close. Green can watch Ryan perform tasks, ask him questions and give him information, and she has all of his lab results from tests conducted in Grand Junction on her computer. A nurse at the Health Department is available during the appointment to take his vital signs, if needed.

Green said she likes to meet a patient in person the first time she evaluates the person, which was what she did with Ryan. But she likes telemedicine because it has allowed her to see as many patients in one day in another city as she could see in Denver because she can cut out travel time.

“It’s kind of nutty for me to fly on a little plane in a snowstorm to do something a nurse can do on site,” she said, referring to the nurse who takes vital signs in Grand Junction.

Teleconferencing isn’t new. Children’s Hospital and the Mesa County Health Department started using similar technologies a decade ago. But many doctors at Children’s Hospital quit using it because the connection was unreliable back then, Green said, but that is not the case now.

The Health Department quit using the technology after a few years because it was run through phone lines instead of the broadband connection used now, and it became too expensive to sustain, Mesa County Health Department Administrative Specialist Lisa Hudson said. Hudson coordinates telemedicine meetings for the Health Department and said the department decided to try long-distance conferencing again because it was overwhelmed with patients who needed to see specialists who do not work year-round in Grand Junction.

Telemedicine conferences with pediatric neurology patients, neurosurgery patients and gastrointestinal patients have taken place at the Health Department this year, Hudson said.

“There is talk of expanding it to all different sorts of specialties,” she said. “A lot of these families are Medicaid families. They don’t have the capabilities to go to Denver, financially or otherwise. That’s why this is so important.”

Hudson said plenty of specialists, from endocrinologists to pulmonologists, come from Denver to Grand Junction hospitals on a rotating basis for a few days at a time to see patients.

“All of those are potentials for teleconferences,” Hudson said.


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