While under a doctor's care, the doctor uses medical tools, checks your vitals and communicates with you face to face. After reviewing your test results and history, a doctor decides whether or not you need to be admitted into the hospital.

Similar interactions between doctors, patients and their families have come to embody the experience of care at Newton Medical Center (NMC).

Recently, NMC announced that same quality interaction will be made more even effective, through the implementation of telemedicine; where a doctor can interact with a patient via a videoconferencing monitor on a robotic stand, equipped with the latest remote diagnostic technology.

As one of the latest innovations in hospital care, Newton Medical Center claims telemedicine connects patients and hospital clinical staff with expert physicians who work off-site. They might be connecting from another hospital, from their office or from their home. 

Although they connect remotely, Newton Med has clarified that physicians are still board-certified to practice medicine in the state of Kansas and have undergone the same credential process required of all physicians who currently practice at the hospital.

“We are pleased to bring the benefits of telemedicine to our patients,” said Val Gleason, chief executive officer of Newton Medical Center. “This new program will improve our ability to continue providing exceptional patient care. The team of telemedicine physicians we are working with are partners who collaborate with our own doctors and provide guidance and expertise to nurses and other clinical staff."

The robotic unit itself is on a rolling stand, which is equipped with a digital stethoscope and other diagnostic equipment. It uses a videoconferencing monitor and camera that enable physicians from remote locations to communicate directly with patients, family, doctors and hospital staff.

The physician who operates the unit can also securely access patients' electronic medical records and test results.

Behind the scenes of the tele-unit is a cloud-based telehealth network, which enables the connection between patient and physician and informs a team of telemedicine physicians specifically assigned to NMC. This way, NMC physicians will get to know the hospital staff and build the working partnership required for delivering top-quality care. 

Currently, the telemedicine program at NMC focuses on general inpatient care and the program will allow physicians to quickly admit ER patients to the hospital, when necessary. This will be beneficial in the middle of the night, when patients ordinarily have to wait for on-call physicians to arrive at the hospital.

“The new program takes some of the stress off our current staff, especially by reducing the number of nighttime visits our doctors have to make to the hospital,” said Gleason. “It’s not news to anyone that the physician shortage is growing in the U.S., and telemedicine can help us continue to attract the best physicians and other clinical staff. This in turn offers long-range benefits to area residents who depend on Newton Medical Center to be there when they need us.”

The telemedicine program is made possible through a partnership between NMC and Eagle Telemedicine, an Atlanta-based provider that is a pioneer in the field. Sunflower Telemedicine LLC is Eagle Telemedicine’s Kansas physician partner.

“We are delighted to welcome Newton Medical Center to our telemedicine program,” said Talbot “Mac” McCormick, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Eagle Telemedicine. “We have devoted more than eight years to perfecting our telemedicine models of care, and we appreciate the enthusiasm with which our program has been adopted at Newton Medical Center. It’s another proof point that telemedicine fills a vital need in healthcare today.”

Dr. Brian Hunt is leading the Eagle team at NMC. He is a hospital-based physician in Lawrence, KS, who grew up just north of Arkansas City. Hunt and other Kansas-based physicians in the Eagle program, including Dr. Jason Kimball, Dr. Marc Scarbrough and Dr. Rob Gorman, will be working closely with other clinical staff as an integral part of the hospital’s healthcare team.

“I was one of the biggest skeptics when I first started hearing about telemedicine,” Dr. Hunt said, “but I learned it can be amazing in what it can do and how it can help take care of folks.”

Gleason told The Kansan that the hospital continuously monitors and evaluates technological advances. When the hospital's medical staff and/or clinical management staffs endorse the use of affordable advances, NMC makes every effort to adopt it.

"For example," Gleason said, "we have routinely performed da Vinci-assisted robotic surgery at NMC since February of 2011. The major lab equipment – analyzers for hematology, chemistry, coagulation, blood bank – are all robots."

Gleason said the newest robotic application, which consists of a high-definition camera with a computer screen and attachments, such as an electronic stethoscope for the Hospitalist program, is another innovative example of using technology assistance to provide excellent patient care.