Grand Valley and Western Colorado patients who go through blood and marrow transplant procedures at the Huntsman Cancer Institute can now have some of their follow-up appointments locally after they return home.

Salt Lake City's Huntsman Cancer Institute and Grand Junction's Community Hospital recently teamed up to open a telemedicine clinic to serve Mesa County patients.

The clinic is held at Grand Valley Oncology on the third Wednesday of each month. Dr. Daniel Couriel, director of HCI's blood and marrow transplant service and professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah, will enter a room at his office and link up virtually with a patient in a room in Grand Junction. A nurse practitioner will assist the patient locally.

"Basically, having that extra continuity using this technology will give us an advantage of following up without the hassle of coming to see us monthly or every two weeks," said Couriel, who also visits Grand Junction each month to see patients.

Leukemia patients who have a blood or marrow transplant are typically in the hospital for two to three weeks, Couriel said. If patients come in from out of town, they typically have to stay close for the first three months following surgery and will find a place to stay in the Salt Lake City area within 30 minutes of the Hunstman Institute.

After the transplant, the patient is at a higher risk for infections due to a lowered immune system. The patient also may need transfusions or their bodies could reject the transplant. After three months, the risk for any of these issues decreases considerably, although problems can still arise.

But after the three months, patients still need to be seen monthly for the next nine months, even if there are no issues. For patients who traveled to Utah from the Grand Valley, this means taking a four-hour drive each way every month, sometimes through bad weather.

The telemedicine clinic provides another option to stay close to home while still seeing the doctor.

"The telemedicine BMT clinic is a fantastic asset for our patients to be able to access the expertise of HCI close to home," said Dr. Joanne Virgilio, a medical oncologist at Grand Valley Oncology. "This clinic also facilitates improved communication and teamwork between our cancer center and HCI."

Couriel hopes the telemedicine program continues to grow and he wants to replicate it in other states that the Huntsman Cancer Institute serves. So far, the program has been working well.

"If you have enough contact with your referring physician, you end up developing a common language," he said. "I think that the doctors at Community are pretty savvy by now and are used to working on these patients with us. I thought this was a great opportunity to use technology for high-intensity medicine. I think it's great."