Gov. Tom Corbett visited Lehigh Valley Hospital at Cedar Crest in Allentown on Tuesday afternoon to promote his state Medicaid reform agenda Healthy Pennsylvania that supports the new telemedicine practices in place in the Greater Lehigh Valley and beyond.
In October 2012, off-duty emergency room nurse Trudy Singley checked into her own Hazleton General Hospital because she felt weak.
But her condition went from bad to worse.
"Last October, I got sick, went to the hospital," Singley said, explaining that she had blood clots in both lungs. "Later that night, suffered a stroke."
Although she was unconscious and unable to speak to her doctors, the medical team was able to quickly access on-call stroke neuroscience specialist Dr. H. Christian Schumacher in Allentown, who knew what to do.
"Through telemedicine, they were able to send the images down to Lehigh Valley to Dr. Schumacher who was neurologist on-call," Singley said. "Certainly with the telemedicine, it allowed for things to happen and process a lot quicker."
According to Singley, she was flown by helicopter to the Lehigh Valley facility, where a specialized interventional radiology team was waiting for her at the hospital and ready for an emergency procedure to remove a blood clot.
"Not having that, I possibly would have died," Singley said.
She was able to return to work six months later, free from the paralysis that accompanies many victims of stroke.
The life-saving steps were possible because the medical team uses video and audio to hold conferences in a secure Skype-type connection, sending back pictures of wounds to the doctor's cellphone for diagnosis, listening to heartbeats on an electronic stethoscope and monitoring vital signs or test results remotely in real time, while accessing the patient's history through electronic medical records.
"Telemedicine is a new tool that allows us to visualize the patient directly in a remote site and also to get all the imaging studies that an outside hospital obtains during the care of a patient in an emergency situation so that we can see the patient and the studies, basically in real time," Schumacher said. "This expedites the work-up and also the treatment in an emergency situation."
The Lehigh Valley Health Network has been using telemedicine for about 18 months, but it is a practice whose use is growing.
"A lot of hospitals in the United States and internationally use telemedicine to increase the access to specialists for all the different diseases – in my specific case, stroke," Schumacher said. "The earlier you intervene, the better the outcome."
According to hospital officials, this serves to improve access that patients have at smaller facilities to specialists at the larger medical centers and in most cases saves the cost of transporting the patients via ambulance or helicopter.
That is because not everyone is bound for a helicopter ride to a bigger city.