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Next step telemedicine proves life-saving

Updated: Oct. 28, 2019 at 8:00 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The world of telemedicine is evolving quickly and the next generation has made its way to Northeast Arkansas.

St. Bernards Healthcare has incorporated a piece of technology that allows its doctors to not only have direct eye contact with a patient but also a life-size image.

The idea was all made possible thanks to one man seeing a need.

“I finished my internal medicine residency in 2006, and then went on active duty with the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan six months later,” said Dr. Darren Sommer. “I wound up taking care of a lot of very sick patients with trauma and indigenous diseases, and the Army had a very good telemedicine infrastructure.”

When Dr. Sommer returned to the U.S., he got his first job in rural North Carolina.

"I finished my internal medicine residency in 2006, and then went on active duty with the U.S....
"I finished my internal medicine residency in 2006, and then went on active duty with the U.S. army and deployed to Afghanistan 6 months later," said Dr. Sommer. "I wound up taking care of a lot of very sick patients with trauma and indigenous diseases, and the army had a very good telemedicine infrastructure."(Dr. Darren Sommer)

“I saw some of the same challenges that I saw in Afghanistan but, there was no telemedicine infrastructure,” said Dr. Sommer. “So, I started getting into the field and what I noticed most, that was missing from the telemedicine industry, was a way to have a personal connection with my patients.”

It made doing his job very difficult.

“How do I talk about cancer, and multiple sclerosis, and dementia with patients and their families when I can’t look them in the eye and really feel like I’m there in the room,” said Dr. Sommer.

That’s where the idea of Innovator Health Technologies came from.

"The rounder is what we're talking through today," said Dr. Darren Sommer. "It is designed to...
"The rounder is what we're talking through today," said Dr. Darren Sommer. "It is designed to allow any of the medical devices to be connected to it, so we can take the digital stethoscope and the cameras connect it and then use it."(KAIT)

“The rounder is designed to allow any of the medical devices to be connected to it,” said Dr. Sommer. “So, we can take the digital stethoscope and the cameras, connect it and then use it.”

There is always a nurse in the room to help facilitate the exam.

“They take the stethoscope and place it on the chest, and I can hear it through my earpieces,” said Dr. Sommer. “Or, they can take the camera, hold it over a rash, or some other type of pathology on the patient, and we can see the different type of images that show a patient’s particular type of illness."

This has made a huge impact through rural communities.

St. Bernards alone sees on average 4,000 patients a year through this technology.

"If it hadn't been for the fact that I couldn't see Dr. Chavez this way, I might have put off...
"If it hadn't been for the fact that I couldn't see Dr. Chavez this way, I might have put off going to Jonesboro to have tests run to see what was happening to me," said Holcomb. "But, by being here it made it easier for me to have these tests run and I don't know what would have happened."(KAIT)

“Just the fact that we are able to keep people locally in their communities, deliver care, makes a huge impact on their willingness to receive care,” said Dr. Sommer. “Because, sometimes people say they don’t have access to a specialist in this community, so they have to go somewhere else.”

Larry Holcomb from Piggott is one of the patients that has received care through telemedicine.

He is grateful for the convenience.

"So much better to drive five minutes from my house to here, than an hour and fifteen minutes to St. Bernards,” said Holcomb. “I got remedied quicker.”

“Having the ability to intervene, and provide care, before they get sick is a huge advantage,” said Dr. Sommer.

Holcomb has had several stents and heart caths done over the past few years in Jonesboro.

After the procedures, Holcomb was able to eliminate the drive to Jonesboro for follow-up appointments.

“You’re in the room with him, even though he’s there and I’m here," said Holcomb. “All of that is done immediately. All of that information comes right to him.”

Instead, he started to do his follow-up appointments through telemedicine at the Piggott Community Hospital.

Instead, he started to do his follow up appointments through telemedicine at the Piggott...
Instead, he started to do his follow up appointments through telemedicine at the Piggott community hospital.(KAIT)

“You can have everything done,” said Holcomb. “The nurses can check your heart rate, your blood pressure here, he sees it just like he’s sitting across the desk from you.”

It’s something the Piggott native and his family are extremely grateful for now.

“If it hadn’t been for the fact that I couldn’t see Dr. Chavez this way, I might have put off going to Jonesboro to have tests run to see what was happening to me,” said Holcomb. “But, by being here, it made it easier for me to have these tests run and I don’t know what would have happened."

Through his telemedicine follow-up appointments, doctors realized Holcomb would need yet another heart cath.

“They found more blockage, so we put in two more and I’ve been okay since,” said Holcomb.

While not face to face, this technology has proven that it has life-saving abilities.

“It’s a wonderful thing for us people, we people in a small town to have the ability to speak to these specialists in Jonesboro, wherever they may be,” said Holcomb. “It gives us the opportunity to have excellent healthcare in our own hometown.”

Dr. Sommer’s technology has been incorporated into clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, and behavioral health units.

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