A healing connection: Thune views Sioux Valley’s telemedicine

A healing connection: Thune views Sioux Valley's telemedicine by David Lias It sounds likes something right out of science fiction.

But technology is now in place that allows hospitals, especially those located in rural areas, to use telecommunications devices to provide patients with health care expertise from specialists hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

Congressman John Thune, who July 12 introduced the Medicare Access to Telehealth Services Act of 2000, was in Vermillion Aug. 10 to see first-hand how his legislation will benefit patients and health care providers in South Dakota.

Thune visited with personnel at Vermillion Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital and witnessed a demonstration of technology used at the hospital to provide information to doctors and specialists in other communities who wish to consult on the diagnosis of patients.

Thune's bill will allow patients to use telecommunications technology to consult with physicians, chiropractors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and physical, occupational and speech therapists.

Currently there are approximately 20 telehealth ventures in the state, but the use of this the technology is largely funded through grants. Thune is concerned that once the grants are used up, the telehealth capabilities will become stagnant or dissolve.

Thune's legislation allows the services to be covered by Medicare and reduces the funding barriers so more hospitals will invest in the technology.

"This is a very positive step," Thune said. "We have the opportunity to take the lead in making these services available and we hope states and the insurance industry will follow our example. Providing this technology is vital to the well being of our rural residents."

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