Local patients receive benefits of Telemedicine

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Telemedicine has been connecting doctors to their patients for years.

The technology has made its way to Maine and is helping rural patients.

"I think there are a lot of patients, especially the elderly population, who have chronic pain or may not be able to drive long distances to see a rheumatologist, and these patients need to see specialists, and I think that is where the real value of telemedicine is," said Dr. Ruthie Chua MD, of St. Joseph Healthcare.

It's a technology that's been around for some time but just recently implemented in the rheumatology department at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Bangor.

Telemedicine provides greater access for patients and their providers.

"Telehealth is becoming more accepted" explained Peggy Pinkham, Executive Director of Maine Rural Health Collaborative. "I think the biggest challenge right now is first of all, finding those clinical providers who are willing to be on the other side and also the ability to build for a service like this."

USDA Rural Development provided a Telemedicine Grant worth over $400,000 to the Maine Rural Health Collaborative to install the equipment.

A telehealth network was also implemented at nine health care facilities in Aroostook, Penobscot, Hancock, and Washington Counties.

The service is expected to help more than 115,000 people in those four counties, including rheumatology patient, Bejamin Begin, from Fort Kent.

What would normally take a day's worth of traveling can now be accomplished in a short visit.

"We all understand how difficult it is to get providers and then to retain those providers, so I think this can be looked at from that perspective as well as a tool to help retain those providers and keep them from burning out as fast as they could otherwise," said Timothy Hobbs, State Director of USDA Rural Development.