With a laptop and Internet access, medical experts are connecting to patients across town and across the globe.
Hospital officials cite cost savings and life-saving seconds as the major reasons for the investment in telemedicine -- a way to diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using telecommunication devices.
More than half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine, according to the American Telemedicine Association. More specialty physicians are reaching patients in rural locations using Internet, wireless and telephone connections.
"Telemedicine is permitting greater access to all patients without having to get in their car and drive an hour," said Dr. Marcus Romanello, chief medical officer at Fort Hamilton Hospital.
Fort Hamilton, owned by Kettering Health, has partnered with UC Health's stroke network to operate a telestroke robot in the emergency department and connect patients exhibiting stroke-like symptoms to stroke experts in Greater Cincinnati at any hour of the day or night.
"Patients take remarkably well to it ... because of the big screen and audio, the physician comes off natural," Romanello said. "It's cutting-edge medicine."
The Premier Health network, which operates Atrium Medical Center in Middletown, began introducing telemedicine for stroke care in 2012, said Dr. Bryan Ludwig, a neurointerventional and stroke specialist. Two machines went live at Atrium Medical Center last year.
Ludwig said telemedicine is especially effective for stroke care because it's very time sensitive.
"The faster you get to the hospital to be seen and treated the better chance for meaningful outcome," Ludwig said.
The company REACH Health, which manufactures Atrium's machines, reports that less than one-quarter of patients in the U.S. live within 30 minutes of a stroke center. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability and the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
"It's about saving brain cells," Ludwig said.
Ludwig said all he needs in order to consult with a stroke patient is his laptop computer equipped with a 4G card to make a hotspot for Internet access. Ludwig said the telestroke robot allows one physician to cover multiple hospitals during an overnight shift. He's even consulted a patient while at a shopping mall.
"I'd prefer to be at the bedside, but we're under a time crunch and families have been appreciative," Ludwig said. "The camera is sensitive enough to see pupils dilate during the light exam."
Ludwig said the telemedicine robots give physicians the added bonus of being able to access on the screen at the time of the consultation a patient's history and doctors' notes using Epic software.
It's that time crunch that has also advanced the use of Epic to share electronic medical records among hospital networks through a shared agreement. Romanello said a physician treating a patient in Hamilton, that was previously seen at another hospital, can "link into records" at the other hospitals to get the patient's information.
"Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials have an expectation for rapid care ... the 'fast food generation'," Romanello said. "To wait in a lobby is unacceptable."
Several hospital networks also use the MyChart program in physician offices for patients to access up-to-date information from home computer or mobile devices, said Dr. Walter Reiling, chief medical informatics officer for Premier Health.
Reiling said IT departments have moved from a supportive role in the past to being fully integrated into the health-care setting.
"It's a way for patients to be involved in their health care and know what's going on," Reiling said.
Patients use MyChart to review elements of their medical history, get test results and medication refills, make appointment requests, and send questions or messages directly to their doctor.
Reiling said when he began in family practice in the early 1990s, communication with your doctor was done by telephone or in person.
"There was limited ability to interact with the physician in business hours only," Reiling said. "This is enhancing the options for patients."
Nicole Hatten, of Hamilton, said she's been using MyChart for about four years through her physician's offices at TriHealth Group Health Associates in Springdale. She said during the past two years the website features have improved and she uses it more consistently.
Hatten said she uses the online resource on her tablet device and smartphone for quick lab results, prescription refills, appointment requests and to ask her physician a question. Hatten said depending on your test results, MyChart will include suggestions and tips on how to improve your health, such as lowering bad cholesterol.
"With technology you have to move with it or get left behind," Hatten said, acknowledging a lot of people still like the traditional telephone.
But for Hatten the convenience of MyChart and not being placed on hold is what keeps her using it.
"You're more in control ... instead of not being able to see their file or computer records, now you have access to that information," Hatten said. ___