In the medical clinic at Stuller, medical
assistant Krystal Eades confers with Dr. Joseph
Orgeron from his office via the telemedicine
Stuller Telemedicine Clinic beams world-class health care into the office setting.

By Lisa Hanchey

Imagine being able to see a doctor for a minor illness without having to leave work, fight traffic and wait for hours at a clinic. That’s exactly what’s happening now at Stuller Inc., which launched Lafayette’s first telemedicine clinic on May 7.

About 18 months ago, Stuller founder Matt Stuller and Lafayette General Medical Center President and CEO David Callecod were discussing how much valuable time employees missed by going to doctors’ appointments. Their solution was to implement a telemedicine program where Stuller’s 1,200 employees could access primary care from work for routine conditions such as colds, allergies and minor injuries. “Both parties agreed that it was good for the community and good for the Stuller employees and achieved both organizations’ mission and vision,” says Brian Kirk, LGMC’s vice president of physician practices.

Using the technology expertise of community nonprofit FiberCorps, Stuller set up two-way audio and HD video conferencing where employees could be “examined” by a physician without having to leave work. “We were able to get everyone around the same table for the extended dialogue that it took to be able to get in place all of the legal agreements, the protocols for how the telemedicine project was going to work from the patient and provider’s perspective and the technology setup to be able to make the connection actually happen,” explains FiberCorps CEO Geoff Daily.

The provider selected for the pilot telemedicine project was Dr. Joseph Orgeron, a family practitioner who had recently launched his own clinic through LGMC in Cordoba Square off Ambassador Caffery Parkway. “I became a really good candidate to potentially be available when somebody would be needed,” he explains. “So, while my clinic is still being ramped up, I am the doctor on the other side of the screen.”

Eventually, LGMC will use doctors from its other urgent care clinics — the Family Health Plaza in River Ranch and the Family Health Plaza South in Sugar Mill Pond. “We are going to have satellite telemedicine hookups available for our physicians in those clinics to be able to help us,” Kirk says.

Orgeron describes the process as “kind of like Skype.” Basically, telemedicine involves a video conference over the Internet. When the patient arrives, certified medical assistant Krystal Eades checks in the patient, gets the chief complaint, takes vital signs and scans the paperwork into a file. At the other end, Orgeron pulls the file up on his computer, reviews it, then dials the clinic to start a one-on-one video dialogue with the patient. Eades uses an otoscope to take pictures of the patient’s ear, nose or throat and a Bluetooth stethoscope for listening to the heart and lungs. “Whatever she is listening to on her end with her stethoscope, I can actually hear through my stethoscope in real time,” Orgeron says.

Telemedicine does have its limitations. For example, Orgeron cannot perform knee, abdominal or other exams that require actual touching. “There are certain things we are not going to be able to do through this,” he confirms. “But for a lot of the coughing, colds, sore throats, and ear infections ... it’s something that we are very excited about.”

During the first week, about seven Stuller employees visited the telemedicine clinic for minor ailments, including upper respiratory problems and skin rashes. Currently, the clinic is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For illnesses that cannot be treated at the clinic, Eades refers patients to the emergency room, urgent care centers or Orgeron’s office.

So far, the telemedicine program is working well. “Actually, it’s going better than I expected,” Orgeron says.

Recently, Stuller held a company meeting where it showed staff how easy it was to use the telemedicine program. Instead of spending time going through multiple layers of security, getting stuck in traffic and waiting for hours at doctors’ offices, employees can just walk down the hall from their work station. The whole process takes just minutes instead of hours, saving both time and money. “It used to be if you were going to see a doctor, it was going to be a minimum of two hours, between going through security to waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.,” Daily says. “Now, as a result of this solution, we are able to have people see the doctor and get in and out in a 20- or 30-minute process versus a two-hour process.”

“So far, the project has been going very smoothly,” confirms Jennifer East, Stuller’s executive director of human resources. “The feedback has been extremely positive.”

Orgeron believes that telemedicine is the wave of the future. “I think that telemedicine is probably going to be used much more in the future, because you are going to have shortages of providers, especially in rural areas,” he says. “Another one of the things that has been talked about is using it on offshore rigs, where it is a lot harder for the patient to get seen easily.”

LGMC’s Callecod also sees the value of telemedicine to address impending physician shortages. “We want to position ourselves uniquely in terms of addressing what we know is going to be a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly post-health care reform when many more people are going to have Medicaid or some other form of insurance,” he says. “We are going to be able to have a lot of innovative approaches that are going to allow our practitioners to see additional patients and see patients in a variety of locations without necessarily having to have two, three or four different offices. I think there is tremendous application for this as we move into the future and, in particular, as it relates to the impending physician shortages.”

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