Cardiologists hope to reduce stroke, hypertension rates in state through telehealth

UAB cardiologists will see patients remotely through telehealth in Butler, Bibb, Wilcox and Marengo counties.

Telehealth2The grant will fund a telehealth-equipped room at four sites site and pay for the provider, irrespective of the patient’s health coverage. Cardiologists and rheumatologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham will begin seeing patients remotely thanks to a grant from The Daniel Foundation of Alabama.

Patients at the Regional Medical Center of Central Alabama in Butler County, J. Paul Jones Hospital in Wilcox County, Bibb Medical Center in Bibb County and Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Marengo County will be able to consult with UAB specialists via telehealth.

The grant will fund a telehealth-equipped room at each site and pay for the provider, irrespective of the patient’s health coverage.

“This grant will allow us to test the economic model for delivery of outpatient telehealth services,” said Eric Wallace, M.D., the medical director of UAB eMedicine. “This funding will allow us to build an outpatient telehealth practice, while examining and overcoming barriers to telehealth in each unique site.”

Wallace says they will analyze the results after several months of patient consultations to see if they can create a payment model that would work across the state and be financially sustainable.

Gilbert Perry, M.D., and Greg Chapman, M.D., will be the two cardiologists from UAB who will see patients remotely through telehealth. Perry says the top priorities are to provide specialty health care in rural communities and to support the local health care providers.

“We hope to improve the care in these communities and make it more convenient for patients to see their doctors, as opposed to having to travel to Birmingham or other cities for follow-up appointments,” Perry said. “A common issue our patients in rural areas encounter is transportation. Many cannot drive or do not have ready access to transportation, so they cannot make follow-up appointments.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and stroke the fourth leading cause of death in Alabama. Perry hopes they will be able to reduce adverse cardiovascular outcomes such as stroke or heart attack by earlier diagnosis and aggressive management of common risk factors such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and atrial fibrillation.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the majority of the state’s counties do not have enough primary care physicians to meet the needs of their residents. Expanding telehealth services will benefit the patients and also provide support and resources to health care providers in rural communities.

“I hope a side effect of this is that it provides a resource for the physicians and nurse practitioners,” Perry explained. “I think, if there is a support structure in place, more physicians and advanced practice providers will be willing to practice in rural areas.” 

Patients will first be seen at J. Paul Jones Hospital in Wilcox County; the telehealth appointments will expand to the other three hospitals throughout the year.