Telemedicine helps treat patients in Acadiana

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK  -- Doug Menefee, chief information officer for the Schumacher Group, speaks Wednesday morning at Lafayette Utilities System's Fiber for Breakfast symposium at the LITE Center. Menefee talked about the advantages of LUS' fiber network for telemedicine applications. LUS Director Terry Huval and Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel, right, are in the background. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Doug Menefee, chief information officer for the Schumacher Group, speaks Wednesday morning at Lafayette Utilities System's Fiber for Breakfast symposium at the LITE Center. Menefee talked about the advantages of LUS' fiber network for telemedicine applications. LUS Director Terry Huval and Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel, right, are in the background.

A doctor sitting at home in Lafayette can treat a stroke patient miles away at a hospital in New Iberia under one of a handful of new telemedicine initiatives taking shape in Acadiana.

Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center’s remote stroke treatment service was among Internet-based programs showcased Wednesday at an event exploring the use of technology in the local health care industry.

The Lourdes’ telemedicine program is a partnership with smaller hospitals outside of Lafayette that don’t have stroke specialists on staff.

Neurosurgeons from Lourdes in Lafayette can “beam in” to emergency rooms at those hospitals through an interactive video program, making treatment recommendations after remotely viewing medical charts and tests and speaking with the patient and on-site medical professionals, said Allen Aubert, who coordinates the telemedicine program for Lourdes.

The neurosurgeon can “tell them how to handle the patient on the spot” to quickly treat the stroke and hopefully prevent death or the long-term health problems that can result from delayed medical attention, Aubert said.

“There is no reason why someone can’t have the same care as if they presented to a major hospital with a stroke center,” Aubert said.

Stuller Inc., an international jewelry manufacturer and supplier based in Lafayette, set up similar system last year with Lafayette General Medical Center for the jewelry company’s more than 1,000 employees.

The telemedicine clinic was started in part because a doctor’s visit can take most of the day for Stuller employees, who need to go through security checkpoints when entering and leaving the facility, said Brian Kirk, with LGMC.

“The concept was to see if we could provide a service on-site in a secure environment,” Kirk said.

The LGMC clinic at Stuller is staffed by a nurse. Employees with minor health issues can also chat with a physician through an interactive system that allows the doctor to remotely examine a patient’s lungs and ears through a special stethoscope and otoscope that the nurse operates.

“It’s amazing how many things where the doctor never touches you, so why do you need to be in the same room?” said Geoff Daily, development director for the Lafayette General Foundation for Healthcare Innovation.

Daily said the hospital is also exploring pilot programs within the school system and at a second business in an effort to fine-tune the telemedicine concept.

“Ultimately, it is our goal to offer those services throughout Acadiana,” he said.

Wednesday’s event highlighting the telemedicine initatives was dubbed “Fiber for Breakfast: Technology in Healthcare,” a name that references LUS Fiber, Lafayette’s municipally owned fiber-optic Internet, television and telephone service.

“We are into seeing what this system can do and how it’s made a difference in our community,” LUS Director Terry Huval said.

Telemedicine was one facet of technology-driven initiatives discussed Wednesday.

For other health care companies, the advantage of a fiber-optic system is in the capacity to reliably move massive amounts of computer data.

At the Schumacher Group, a nationwide medical staffing and billing company based in Lafayette, the speed and reliability of the city’s fiber-optic system has allowed the company to shift much of its data storage to other companies, Schumacher Chief Information Office Douglas Menefee said.

The company saves equipment cost by outsourcing data storage, but the strategy depends on the fiber-opic system to move the data quickly, he said.

“We don’t have a bandwidth question anymore,” Menefee said.

Lafayette-based Acadian Companies, which offers ambulance and alarm services in three states, also depends on a reliable high-speed Internet for dispatch and remote paramedic training, Acadian Director of Technology Joseph Branton said.

“That is the future,” he said. “Fiber is a huge catalyst for us.”