Texomans in rural areas don't often have many choices for hospital care. If they need any big procedures done, they may have to take a long road trip to see a specialist. Or, as used to be the case at Wilbarger General Hospital in Vernon, a radiologist from out of town will travel in for a few days a week. But now teleradiology will essentially put an expert radiologist in the hospital 24-seven.
"The bottom line is we can do the same thing here at Wilbarger General Hospital that you can do in any urban environment now," said Wilbarger General CEO Jonathon Voelkel.
Doctor Greg Rose, President of Rays Teleradiology, has been working to set up an efficient, reliable online system that allows doctors to send x-rays, CT scans, and other tests to a team of interpreting radiologists around the country. That means women in Vernon won't have to wait a week to hear if their mammogram indicates cancer.
"You can go into these little hospitals served by Rays and get your radiology done and get a result right away," he said.
With a 17-minute turnaround, Dr. Rose says there are lots of benefits for the patients.
"There's a lot of travel, delay, and patient care issues that are saved by this. If a patient has to travel in to the hospital two hours and travel back, that's a critical amount of time for them to be spending," he said.
Wilbarger General stands to gain, too. With teleradiology, the hospital can retain more patients. It can also attract more doctors because of the teleradiology, and therefor promote growth in rural areas.
"It's just a natural fit, and I think you'll see a lot more as time goes on, and the quality will increase, the expectations will increase," Voelkel said.
While in town, Rose has also been visiting other hospitals along Highway 287 to get a radiologist whom all the facilities can share.
"We're helping the small facilities to come together and share their resources so that we can put a radiologist on-site and have him travel around to the little places," he said.
While Voelkel says teleradiology doesn't replace the need for an on-site radiologist, it greatly reduces the need; 75 to 80% of cases can be interpreted off-site.
Rays has also placed one other radiologist in a rural area in Oklahoma.