Telemedicine Allows Underserved Abilene HIV Patients to Receive Health Care Close to Home
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Telemedicine Allows Underserved Abilene HIV Patients to Receive Health Care Close to Home

Written by Beth Phillips

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health’s Telemedicine Program has partnered with Big Country AIDS Resources (BCAR) to provide infectious disease management for underserved HIV patients in the Abilene area via telemedicine.

Telemedicine is the delivery of health care over a videoconferencing or telecommunications system. The TTUHSC Telemedicine Program recently installed telemedicine equipment at Medical Care Mission, 1857 Pine St. in Abilene.

“Telemedicine aims to bridge the gap of infectious disease care for underserved adult HIV patients in the Abilene area,” said Richard Winn, M.D., professor and division chief of Infectious Disease in the TTUHSC Department of Internal Medicine. “We anticipate regularly scheduled appointment windows for these patients with the referral process and all other aspects working like in-person visits, only without the three-hour drive to Lubbock.”

Using the newly installed technology, Winn discusses disease histories, medications, challenges and options for further care along with patients’ BCAR caseworkers. Medical Care Mission providers then order medication, labs and imaging if necessary.

Winn has provided similar services to more than 300 patients in the Lubbock area for more than four years through the South Plains Community Action Association’s Project CHAMPS (Community Action Health Access & Multi-Program Services), which serves patients in the 15-county area around Lubbock with funding from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Funding is for individuals living with HIV without any other means of paying for care and treatment.

Several months ago, BCAR found itself without an infectious disease physician for dozens of patients within a 19-county area around Abilene who had no other health coverage or funding. State health officials are monitoring the delivery of infectious disease health care to patients through telemedicine for possible duplication in other areas of Texas where there are similar provider issues.

“The past two years have been difficult for our clients,” said Betty Sims, executive director of BCAR. “They lost a trusted health care provider and support staff when their prior HIV health care agency closed. We struggled to find a local solution to the problem and when nothing worked out, sought to find a relationship with an institution with long-term history of caring for HIV positive individuals.”

Sims added, “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the medical and telemedicine staff at TTUHSC. Clients have told us how much they like their new medical home where they receive both primary care and care for HIV.”

Telemedicine began at TTUHSC in 1989 as a grant-funded research project, originally designed to connect the institute’s campuses in Lubbock, Amarillo, Odessa and El Paso. With the use of distance communications for education and teleconferencing, it was logical that links could also be made from the main Lubbock campus to distant rural sites for live medical consultations.

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