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Telemedicine makes '21st century house call' possible in Western Pa.

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Dr. Dan Geary, visible on an iPad, talks to AK Pulser paramedic Chris Berg as they demonstrate using an iPad video-conference system that medics can use while on emergency calls to help determine the level of treatment a patient may need. Photographed at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
AK Pulser paramedics Gary Cockroft, left, and Chris Berg demonstrate using an iPad to video conference with a doctor at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. The system can be used while paramedics are on emergency calls.

Barbara Vedu knew something wasn't right.

The 54-year-old Leechburg resident was shaky and nauseous. A diabetic, Vedu decided she'd better call 911.

Much to Vedu's surprise, when AK Pulser paramedic Eric Anderson showed up to assist Lower Kiski EMS already on the scene, he presented her with Pulser's newest tool: an iPad.

“I was like ‘What are you guys doing?'” Vedu said.

Anderson explained to Vedu, that, with her consent, she'd be the first patient in the state to use telemedicine as part of her treatment.

“Telemedicine is another tool for us,” Anderson said. “It allows us, via the iPad, to connect patients with emergency room doctors.

“The physician can get a look at the patient and see what steps we need to take,” he said. “It's like a 21st century house call.”

In Vedu's case, the next step was to remain at home and raise her blood sugar via food, with a plan for her to follow up with her physician the next day.

“There are four specific types of cases where we can use telemedicine,” said Jeff Polana, the director of prehospital operations for Allegheny Health Network, which owns AK Pulser. “One is treatment for patients outside (normal EMS) protocol, another is for stroke patients, third is for a patient who the paramedic just isn't comfortable with and, finally, for patients who refuse treatment.

“Before we do telemedicine, the patient has to be conscious and alert of time and place, and consent to telemedicine's use.”

Polana said there is no charge to the patient for using telemedicine.

He said since Vedu was treated on June 30, emergency responders have used telemedicine with 11 other patients.

AK Pulser's telemedicine program is the first program of its kind in the state, and is operating on a one-year trial basis, Polana said.

“For us to be a the only approved pilot program in the whole state is a true honor,” he said.

Vedu said it was an honor for her, too.

“I think this is great,” she said. “They should use it more often. I feel special.

“It kept me out of the hospital and kept me from having to stress over who would come get me.”

Bob McCaughan, the vice president of prehospital care at Allegheny Health, said patient peace-of-mind is just one of the many benefits of telemedicine.

“It keeps patients out of the hospital who don't need to be there,” he said. “It saves patients money and time, it kept an emergency room bed open and it puts an ambulance back on the streets of the community.

“I think it's safe to say that telemedicine is going to be here to stay.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.

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