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Kentucky Telehealth: A Network of Promise

January 11, 2005

Freedom Calls at Freedom Hall brings family members in Kentucky face to face with their loved ones in Iraq.
Freedom Calls at Freedom Hall brings family members in Kentucky face to face with their loved ones in Iraq.

Last month, moments before one of the biggest college basketball games of the year between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky, a very special event took place. With more than 20,000 fans looking on, the large video screens in Louisville's Freedom Hall switched from the action on the court to the action in Iraq where American troops had gathered to talk live to their families via video conference.  The powerful and emotional event, called “Freedom Calls from Freedom Hall” was highlighted on ESPN and helped to put the basketball rivalry in perspective during the holiday season. It also showcased one of Kentucky's hidden treasures, the Kentucky Telehealth Network. 

The idea to connect families and troops during the game came from Rob Sprang.  Since 1995, he has been the Director of Kentucky TeleCare, a telemedicine program based at the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center.  Sprang was hired to grow the program and expand the possibilities of telehealth at UK.  Today, Kentucky TeleCare is a network of nine rural community healthcare facilities and also represents a consortium of four interconnected telemedicine networks. Along with State Representative Steve Nunn, Sprang led the efforts that resulted in the passage of progressive telehealth legislation in Kentucky, mandating reimbursement for telehealth encounters by Medicaid and private payors and channeled state funding to support the development of a statewide telehealth initiative, the Kentucky Telehealth Network (KTHN). KTHN now includes all three medical schools in the state and nearly 70 rural healthcare facilities.

KTHN is one of the first legislatively mandated statewide telehealth initiatives, and has become a national leader in the development of a cooperative statewide effort to efficiently distribute the healthcare resources of the state to every Kentuckian, no matter where they live.  KTHN is overseen by a nine-member Board of Directors, and is led by co-project managers from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.  One of the most progressive components of KTHN was the development of four Telehealth Training Centers which oversee the day-to-day activities of the network, provide support for the network sites and drive new applications to benefit all Kentuckians. KTHN has great technical resources, including the Morehead Training Center Director, Rick Phillips.  “Without Rick’s technical expertise his outstanding technical plan for the U of K/U of L game event, the event would never have succeeded.  Rick put together a plan that allowed us to broadcast the game to soldiers in Iraq, put the soldier’s video onto the big screen in Freedom Hall and allowed Dick Vitale and Gov. Fletcher to speak directly to the troops.  It was a tremendous technological feat”, said Sprang.  KTHN has also conducted live surgical broadcasts across the world, and Rick Phillips is expected to take videoconference technology on a medical mission trip to Ethiopia this month.

Members of the Kentucky Telehealth Board hold their December meeting via the network.
Members of the Kentucky Telehealth Board hold their December meeting via the network.

Since 2000, the KTHN has been a great resource for training, bringing the educational resources of the University Medical Center to rural healthcare facilities across the state. .  It has allowed the medical community to reach out to rural areas to serve patients who may not normally be able to have contact with a specialist or reach a regional medical center, especially in inclement weather as Kentucky has experienced this winter.  The busiest clinical applications for telehealth are dermatology, pediatric cardiology, infectious disease, radiation medicine and psychiatry. 

Other telehealth applications include:

• Death with Dignity, a psychotherapy service to hospice patients that allows patients to organize themselves and leave a legacy for their family. 

• Correctional health to provide prisoners with needed healthcare services without having to transport them to public healthcare facilities.

• Bioterrorism training and disaster response activities, and the creation of PROACT (Preparedness and Response On Advanced Communications Technology). PROACT includes 20 selected KTHN sites that have committed to 24/7 response in the event of a disaster.  PROACT has successfully completed several multi-state disaster drills with the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

• POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) based videoconferencing allows Kentucky to expand clinical and educational services into places that normally could not afford traditional telemedicine or did not have access to high bandwidth communication lines required for such technology, such as nursing facilities and patient homes.

• School-based telehealth has brought physician care services directly into public school nurse clinics. 

• Mobile health clinics, equipped with telehealth technology, can deliver healthcare services across the state.

According to Sprang, the possibilities of the Kentucky Telehealth Network and the Kentucky Telecare program are endless. "I would like to see telehealth move to every desktop, and become as ubiquitous as the telephone, but we are a long way from that. I would like to see that system integrate medical informatics, including radiography, labs results, patient history and all other pertinent healthcare information with the telemedicine system. Referring and consulting clinicians would have seamless access to all of the patient’s information necessary to maximize the patient’s care. One day, networks will blend together with easy interfaces that will allow clinicians from different states to share information, and “centers of excellence” will emerge to provide clinical support to anyone in the country via telehealth systems. In the interim, we will continue to make the best of divergent systems, and progressively move to a fully integrated system."


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Last Updated 1/26/2005
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