Long distance learning available for local doctors

It's a conundrum.

The state requires doctors to have continuing education for their practice. Yet, how do you get that training for physicians in small town hospitals like Sunnyside Community Hospital?

One answer here is something called Telehealth, which brings healthcare presentations from Seattle, Spokane and Portland via satellite television to more than 40 local hospitals throughout Washington and Idaho, including Sunnyside.

Sunnyside Community Hospital joined the system to improve access to healthcare information and education for the more than 300 employees of the hospital and five associated primary care clinics.

Gabriella Barker is the Sunnyside hospital's education director and recounted how one local pediatrician stops by a conference room at the hospital twice a week for continued training.

"It's a way to provide training they otherwise wouldn't have without traveling out of the area," Barker said.

In the state of Washington, doctors must receive continuing education hours to remain licensed and current in their knowledge and skills. Along with the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are highly encouraged to maintain their skills, abilities, and knowledge via attending continuing education sessions throughout the year.

That often means lengthy and expensive travel to meetings outside the Yakima Valley. But thanks to Telehealth, Sunnyside Community Hospital staff now get as much as 70 percent of its continuing medical education through Telehealth.

"We have monthly presentations (called Grand Rounds) on issues including pediatrics, women's health, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and psychiatric illnesses," Barker said. "Our staff can come into a hospital meeting room and not only listen, but ask questions of presenters in Seattle or Spokane using this interactive device."

Telehealth isn't just getting info out to doctors and nurses, but to patients as well. Barker said that patients newly diagnosed with diabetes by doctors within the hospital's clinics can now receive a three-week course in one-on-one instruction for handling their illness.

Barker said it's so popular that some patients are telling their friends to try out the video presentations on diabetes treatment. She again noted, though, that only patients seen by hospital physicians can access the program.

In another example of how Telehealth has helped local patients, Barker recalls one elderly patient who came from the Tri-Cities once a month for a video conference with a neurologist specialist in Seattle.

"He had actually ended up in our emergency department when a problem developed on his way to an appointment in Seattle," Barker explained. "When he found out he could talk to his doctor over our Telehealth system he insisted on coming back to Sunnyside every month even though Telehealth is available in the Tri-Cities too."

And, Barker notes, patient care is what Telehealth is all about.

"It also is a fine example of our hospital motto 'Whatever you do; do it well'."

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