GUAM HEALTH CARE INDUSTRY TOUTS TELEMEDICINE

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Two-day conference addressed telehealth opportunities

By Janela Buhain HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Aug. 31, 2011) – The transition to telemedicine is not an easy one, but it is becoming progressively necessary to compensate for the lack of certain specialty care on-island, according to experts in the education and healthcare industry in Guam.

As part of a two-day conference presented by the Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center (PBTRC) at the University of Guam, Dr. Joe Humphry from the University of Hawaii presented yesterday on the value added opportunities of using telehealth in the region. In addition, PBTRC Pacific Islands Project Manager Bruce Best also gave a presentation on the status of telehealth in the Pacific.

"It’s absolutely critical that we look toward telehealth to improve access to care and reduce costs," said Humphry.

Through telehealth, healthcare providers geographically isolated from patients can still provide access to specialty care, Humphry said, thus potentially eliminating or reducing the need for travel.

In fact, virtually any kind of specialty care could potentially utilize telehealth, he said, including telerehabilitation, chronic disease management, teleradiology, telepsychology and telepsychiatry.

Diabetes, which is prevalent among the Guam population, could be managed better through remote monitoring, he said.

For his part, Best said the cost of sending patients off-island to seek specialty care has made a major dent in Guam’s budget that could otherwise be alleviated through telehealth.

One kind of technology used in telemedicine includes placing a bandage-like material on a patient’s arm that transmits information to a device. The information, which can be a glucose reading, sugar levels, or other vital statistics, can then be accessed from virtually anywhere in the world through the Internet.

Best also spoke about the benefits of digitalizing patients’ health records, also known as an electronic health record, or EHR. He said there are incentives for doctors to convert their health records to EHRs.

Both Best and Humphry stated, however, that the biggest challenge to telehealth’s full implementation on Guam and the Pacific region is "change."

"People are resistant to change. It’s more work, but that’s the reason why the federal government is giving them incentives," Best said.

Best said telehealth has been around in the Pacific islands for the last 20 to 30 years. The University of Guam is involved in a number of federally-funded projects and programs linked to telehealth.

UOG also facilitates the Shriner’s Hospital for Children telehealth program, he said.

In Micronesia, where most specialty care is lacking, telehealth is crucially needed, he said.

"Twenty percent of the Pacific islands’ budgets are used for referrals. If you can’t get good health care in the [Federated States of Micronesia] ... then you have to go to a large metropolitan area like Guam. For the FSM, that’s one of the reasons why we’re asking for more Compact Impact funds because it’s a big burden on us," Best said.

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