Telemedicine Program supports psychiatric care in Georgia

Augusta 05 January 1998 The state of Georgia is reorganising its inadequate and poorly distributed mental-health services into nineteen different regions. Parallel to this initiative, the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) involves its Telemedicine Centre in an operation that will render psychiatric care and continuing education more readily available to the mental-health care professionals and the public. This program is funded by a 1,5 million dollar National Patterns of Academic Excellence grant from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. The education process also includes the establishment of a learning centre on the MCG campus where psychiatrists will be trained on how to use telemedicine.

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The state of Georgia is reorganising its inadequate and poorly distributed mental-health services into nineteen different regions. Parallel to this initiative, the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) involves its Telemedicine Centre in an operation that will render psychiatric care and continuing education more readily available to the mental-health care professionals and the public. This program is funded by a 1,5 million dollar National Patterns of Academic Excellence grant from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. The education process also includes the establishment of a learning centre on the MCG campus where psychiatrists will be trained on how to use telemedicine.

At present, the vast majority of psychiatric services in Georgia are provided by nurses and social workers. More than half the 159 counties do not even have a psychiatrist, a position comparable to the Alaskan or Hawaiian situation, according to Dr. R. Kevin Grigsby, director of research for the MCG Telemedicine Centre. On top of this, people can hardly afford psychiatric help in a state where at least 20 percent of the citizens are living below poverty level. For these reasons, nineteen regions will be installed with each of them disposing of an empowered board to contract for services.

The responsible boards either will have to find care takers who are willing to ride the circuit or use telemedicine instead. The Georgia Statewide Telemedicine Program is offering a nice solution since it eventually will link 59 hospitals, clinics and correctional facilities in an advanced long-distance patient-examination system. The state psychiatric hospitals and community mental-health centres will equally be embraced in this initiative, according to Dr. Grigsby. Moreover, Georgia can offer about 140 distance-learning sites. Psychiatrists, nurses and social workers will have ready access to this educational network.

Patients needing psychiatric care soon will get less expensive consultations through the telemedicine network. Dr. Grigsby also announces the arrival of a full-time telepsychiatrist, specialised in consultation liaison psychiatry instead of long-term psychotherapy, in order to manage the telepsychiatric project. Of course, it will always remain possible for patients to visit MCG specialists in a particular area such as depression, Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia.

The telemedicine program is perfectly fitted to psychiatric care given the fact that images with broadcast-quality are produced at thirty frames per second. As for the distance learning system, it should not be used for actual patient examination since its less-sophisticated communication lines do not permit to get a sharp view of the patient's facial expression and movements. Dr. Grigsby states his general optimism with the conclusion that the Georgia Statewide Telemedicine Program constitutes an ideal tool as it uses both the clinician as an instrument and medical telemetry. In order to follow the latest developments of this program, please check in at the Telemedicine Centre site of the Medical College of Georgia.


Leslie Versweyveld

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