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State of Health

TeleHealth Bridge Healthcare Gap For Rural Oklahoma

Posted: Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY -

About two million Oklahomans live in rural areas and have little to no access to healthcare. That's why so many people are forced to drive hours to see a doctor or specialist. However, health officials are thinking outside the box to for ways to bring care to rural Oklahoma.

Dr. Robert Rader prepares for a day of treating patients at St. Anthony's Hospital in downtown Oklahoma City. But the patients he sees are actually dozens of miles away.

"At first there's an adjustment obviously, we're trained to be right there at the bedside and very hands on," he said.

Through the hospital's telemedicine program, doctors see patients at 21 rural hospitals across the state including Cordell Memorial in western Oklahoma.

"You can look in the throat, look in the ears and the stethoscope in some ways a little bit better than in person because I can adjust the volume," Dr. Rader said.

Nurses at the hospitals wheel doctors and specialists into the exam rooms, where they are able to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients virtually.

"The patients actually I feel like do better when they're cared for by the people who know them," Dr. Rader said.

CEO Brandon Hise relies on telemedicine to bridge the gap.

"Telemedicine is the wave of the future for rural healthcare," Hise said. "Patients love it, patient's families love it and they do not have to drive two hours to Oklahoma City."

However, in small towns like Geary, there is no hospital for the roughly 1,200 residents, so Oklahoma State University and Mercy have teamed up to bring this mobile clinic to Main Street once a week.

"We are basically a clinic on wheels," said TeleHealth Support Specialist Angela Surratt.

Inside the bus, there is a waiting area, lab and an exam room. They also use telemedicine when patients need a specialist.

Edna Sanders has macular degeneration and can't drive to her appointments.

"It makes my life a lot better," Sanders said. "This is really a help to me. It can let me get an appointment over with and then my caregiver can take me back home again and I'm fine."

"It gives them a means to not travel, be uprooted from their homes you know travel three six eight hours away," said Surratt.

This is why state officials believe these programs are a lifeline for rural Oklahoma.

"If we can improve people, their health in the preventative side, we can catch things and help them monitor more closely or work on chronic diseases and help them improve their health before they become much larger issues, much more costly issues," said Adrienne Rollins with the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

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