Russians see telemedicine potential
Choteau Acantha (Choteau, MT)
Posted on November 8, 2006
By Melody Martinsen
"Telemedicine is the future for Russian medicine," Dr. Viacheslav Egorov of Moscow told the administrator at Teton Medical Center last week.
"For us too," replied H. Ray Gibbons after he had taken Egorov and three other Russian colleagues on a tour of Teton Medical Center's hospital and nursing home Nov. 1.
"But the future is much closer here," Egorov said with a smile.
Egorov was among five urban Russian doctors who arrived in Montana last week for a five-day goodwill tour through the Open World Leadership Center, a congressionally established program that facilitates educational tours for Russians in America.
The physicians visited hospitals and medical facilities in Great Falls and drove out to Choteau to visit Teton Medical Center.
The goal of the visit, facilitator Bob Harris said, was "to give these people an idea of how the people in the country fare medically, how they access services."
Harris is the local director of the Advisory Commission on International Relationships, a Great Falls organization that facilitates tours for the Open World Program.
During the tour of Teton Medical Center, Gibbons emphasized what a crucial role telemedicine plays in rural Montana health-care. Cardiac specialists in Missoula might be reading an EKG printout from a heart attack patient in the emergency room at Teton Medical Center.
X-rays are interpreted by radiologists via an electronic transmissions system, he said, and medical specialists can be called in for consultations via real-time, face-to-face telecommunications equipment housed at TMC.
Through telemedicine, Choteau's small team of local medical providers has excellent access to certified specialists in Montana or elsewhere in the United States as needed, Gibbons said.
In fact, he said, TMC is part of the Northcentral Montana Regional Healthcare Alliance, a group of 12 regional hospitals that recently received an $800,000 grant to bring telemedicine into patient's rooms via a small flat screen television, an electronic stethoscope and other equipment that can all be loaded on a mobile cart.
Dr. Aleksandr V. Muravets, a medical doctor and a professor of medicine in Moscow, a city of 10 million residents, said making use of digital and Internet technology to access consulting physicians outside the region is a smart way to reduce the cost of accessing specialists while providing patients with higher quality medical care.
Muravets, Egorov, surgeon Pavel Krohichev of Kostroma Regional Hospital and Dr. Tatiana P. Rosseykina, chief of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at the Children's Regional Hospital in Krasnodar toured TMC's emergency room, laboratory, X-ray unit, physical therapy department, hospital rooms and the nursing home.
Gibbons and Chief Nursing Officer Robert Rang explained how rural Montanans respond to 9-1-1 emergency calls from the local law enforcement center's dispatcher to the ambulance to the hospital and then to transport to a regional trauma center if necessary.
The Russians were particularly impressed with the role volunteers provide in emergency services here as firefighters, search and rescue units and ambulance crew members are largely volunteers who are allowed by their regular employers to leave when the siren wails or the pager buzzes.
Gibbons told the Russians that of the 50 hospitals in Montana, about 30 are similar in size and operations to TMC, a 12-bed hospital that has a daily average census of just three patients.
"We are what you would consider a primary care hospital," he said.
The Russian physicians peppered Gibbons and others with questions, posing their inquiries through interpreter Tanya Samsonova-Lukenbill of Helena. They quizzed Gibbons and Rang about emergency response times, medicines available in the emergency room, why surgery is not done here, what types of patients are admitted to TMC's 34-bed nursing home, local response to epidemics of contagious diseases, costs of providing services and more.
Dr. Rosseykina said she practices in Krasnodar, a city of 6 million people. In the region, there are 48 smaller hospitals, but in the most rural areas of Russia, she said, health-care is provided through clinics staffed by nurses, mid-level providers or physicians. Patients travel (or are transported) to reach the regional hospitals for higher-level care.
"Not a single rural hospital can boast of the equipment we've seen here," Rosseykina said through the translator.
Rosseykina said the government in Russia has concluded that the best use of resources is to place the most expensive, highest-level medical equipment in large, regional hospitals, rather than try to place lesser equipment in many rural hospitals.
All four doctors who visited TMC thanked Gibbons for the tour. Samsonova-Lukenbill said, "They are honored to be invited here."
Egorov said he was impressed with "the attitude of the people."
Rosseykina said she thought the Rocky Mountain Front was "absolutely beautiful."
[Reprinted with Permission]