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Videoconferencing for Efficiency.

Videoconferencing streamlines continuing education and specialist referrals.

In the changing world of medicine, physicians are challenged to stay informed. In rural areas, this problem is compounded by distance. For patients in these areas, the problem of locating practitioners, much less specialists, remains an ongoing one. Today, however, videoconferencing technology is being used to solve problems for both physicians and their patients.


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is predominantly a huge forest dotted with lakes and small towns. To get an idea of its size, it takes six hours to travel from one end to the other. Although its population of 314,000 is on a par with Pittsburgh, inhabitants are scattered throughout the region at an average of 19 people per square mile. The population density in outlying parts sinks as low as six people per square mile.

The Upper Peninsula's largest city, Marquette (22,000), is home to the Marquette General Health System (MGHS). Marquette General Hospital serves as the Regional Medical Center for Michigan's Upper Peninsula. MGHS consists of the Regional Medical Center (353 acute care beds), rural health clinics and home care agencies employing 2,600 people. MGHS works with other independent healthcare organizations under the name Upper Peninsula Health Care Network (UPHCN).

We found ourselves in a difficult situation providing rural physicians with the continuing education that is a mandatory aspect of their jobs. Time, distance and severe weather conditions made it increasingly complicated for our educators to meet the needs of the physicians; in turn, physicians were frustrated by the difficulty they faced in pursuing their continuing education requirements. We needed an educational system that was more accessible, productive and cost effective.


In 1994, through a technology consortium, we pursued videoconferencing as a solution. Working with a limited budget, we wanted a system that could deliver quality videoconferencing over low bandwidth. With a grant of $300,000 from the Rural Utilities Services, we purchased videoconferencing equipment from PictureTel vendor AmeriTech. AmeriTech also supplied us with ISDN lines and had the system up and running by February 1995.

The teachers trained, both on-site and remotely, with Virginia Ostendorf, a renowned expert on distance learning and PictureTel. We attribute much of our success to the quality of that training.

With an additional three-year grant of more than $900,000 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, we purchased more videoconferencing systems for deployment to rural hospitals.


When the system became operational in 1995, we had seven sites. Today, we have 25 operational sites using 38 videoconferencing systems. While some sites still have the original 128kbps bandwidth, others have expanded to 384 kbps and still other to 768 kbps using Internet Protocol. The higher bandwidth offers a speed and look closer to broadcast television.

The Telehealth Network uses the PictureTel Concorde, the PictureTel 760 and the 4000 ZX among other brands of videoconferencing technology. The network uses auxiliary cameras, document cameras and electronic stethoscopes for telemedicine applications. Further, we have teleradiology equipment at 11 sites and in the homes of Marquette radiologists and neurosurgeons.

We soon discovered other uses for videoconferencing, such as increased programming and services offered. The network currently divides its time between:
Education 31%

Administration 44%

Clinical/medical 16%

Community groups/ 09%
outside agencies

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Overall connections have increased 63 percent from 1996 through 2000. That number is a conservative estimate because videoconferencing has become such a natural way of communicating among organizations that users sometimes fail to document and categorize the connection.

Videoconference meetings have tremendously increased the speed of coordination between the members of the network, while decreasing the expense of those meetings which would have cost many hours of travel each way. Now we conduct more meetings with video, and the organization makes more progress in achieving its mission in less time.

We use the system to connect patients to subspecialties not available within Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For example, using our telehealth equipment, we consulted Dr. Kevin C. Chung, a nationally recognized pediatric plastic surgeon who oversees the University of Michigan Hand Center, saving two patients a 16-hour round-trip to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Perhaps most importantly, this technology has had a positive impact on patient services. When a rural patient needs to consult a specialist, we can now set up a videoconference consultation through our specialty clinic. Doctors feel the ability to actually see a patient is far more valuable than anything they can do over the phone, and now that can be accomplished.

The videoconferencing network has enabled the Upper Peninsula Health Care Network hospitals to continue to raise the bar in terms of quality and efficiency of healthcare in the rural geography. Communities of 2,000 people are using videoconferencing at their hospitals to address healthcare and business needs. Videoconferencing inspires confidence among patients because they have easy access to specialists in distant areas. Consequently, this means their local hospital is up-to-date and can provide top-quality care based on best-available medical information.

MGHS recently received a federal grant from the Office for Advancement of Telehealth to help us reach our expansion goals for the future. For now, videoconferencing has already helped the Upper Peninsula to improve its healthcare, providing practitioners the ability to meet more frequently and involve more people without the time and risk of travel.

Sally Davis
Program Director
Telehealth and Management
Marquette General Health System
Marquette, MI


PictureTel Corporation
Andover, MA

For more information from PictureTel Corp.

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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Publication:Health Management Technology
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Smooth Sailing with Scheduling.

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