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News|College of Engineering and Applied Science

Eden Valley Telehealth Clinic Brings Telehealth to Southwestern Wyoming


August 7, 2012 — With support from Dean Rob Ettema and Professor Suresh Muknahallipatna of the College of Engineering and Applied Science,  partners in Southwest Wyoming will soon implement a telehealth/telemedicine clinic to improve access to healthcare for residents of the Farson and Eden communities (Eden Valley).

Wyoming is a frontier state, and with its small population and large geographic area, faces a number of related problems in delivering healthcare services to its local communities.  Among these are distance, geography, inclement weather, isolated communities, and a shortage of primary care and specialty physicians. 

Telemedicine is a cost-effective and efficient means of delivering healthcare to the rural resident, rather than having the resident travel to the healthcare provider.  Obtaining healthcare locally reduces travel, time away from work, patient transfer costs, and keeps healthcare dollars in the local community.

Partners for this project include the residents of  Eden Valley, the United Way of Southwest Wyoming, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Wyoming Health Information Organization, the College of Health Science, and the Wyoming Telehealth Consortium.

Through this collaborative effort, Southwest Wyoming partners will be able to interact with other telehealth users, other telehealth networks, and a myriad of telehealth service providers.  Additionally, partners will gain access to the resources through the statewide telehealth website, and the ability to help shape the future of telehealth in Wyoming. 

Telehealth typically involves physicians using ineractive video and/or store-and-forward technologies to treat patients.  Interactive video allows medical specialists to directly communicate with their patients who are in another location, utilizing technology and specially adapted medical equipment. 

This project grew from the grass roots efforts of residents of Eden Valley and the United Way of Southwest Wyoming.  In December of 2011, conversation began between a volunteer Emergency Medical Service technician from Farson, WY, Mary Ann Mines, and Kathy Tacke, Director of Community for the United Way of Southwest Wyoming, regarding how health access and quality of life could be improved for frontier areas of Southwest, WY such as Farson.  This initial conversation expanded to involve both the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the Wyoming Health Information Organization (WyHIO).

Travel burdens in this remote frontier are an obstacle, especially during the Wyoming winters.  In a recent study, travel was the most common concern among rural cancer patients.  Another need for additional health services to the region is that in Eden Valley 164 children are enrolled in local rural schools, with one school nurse on site for a total of six hours during a three week period.  The nurse is required to travel 60 miles round trip from Rock Springs for each visit. 

United Way of Southwest Wyoming (UWSW) believes that simply moving dollars between programs, even with the best needs assessment, the best outcomes process and the best agencies, is not enough to create  the kind of significant, sustained change in conditions that the community and its residents want to see.  In June 2008, following six months of study, analysis, and community involvment, UWSW Board of Directors and staff created mission statements that would guide United Way to create change in the human condition at the community level.  Organizing around a common vision of what the community wants to accomplish is a powerful tool for creating the change that the community wants to see.  The three community impact outcome areas that were identified are education, basic needs, and health.  While finding solutions to each impact area presents its own set of obstacles, the difficulties that access to health care in frontier Wyoming are particularly trying.

The WyHIO and Professor Muknahallipatna of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering had already partnered to address the problem of interoperability across the multiple telehealth networks operating in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region.  With the help of Dean Ettema, the WyHIO and the College, they have collectively been able to extend the existing partnerships to offer technology design and evaluation services, as well as financial support for the Eden Valley project. Upon hearing of the project, the College of Health Sciences and the Wyoming Telehealth Consortium joined the efforts of the original partners.

As a private, 501 (c) (3) organization, the WyHIO bridges both the public and private sectors, provides accountability to its partners and the Wyoming Telehealth Consortium, and supports the expansion of telemedicine across Wyoming.

The Eden Valley Telehealth Center will be located in Farson as a new clinic pilot sight branching to helath care facilities in Sweetwater County.  For the Eden Valley area this will be an unprecedented opportunity to bring efficient, cost-effective, quality healthcare to the rural resident, rather than having the resident travel to the healthcare provider.  Thomas Smith, an Eden Valley resident, and a sophomore at the University of Wyoming, College of Engineering and Applied Science said, “This is a wonderful opportunity for the Valley residents.  I was a volunteer BEC with the ambulance service there when I was is high school and to see this project moving forward with the help of the Engineering College here at UW is exciting.” 

Jerry Calkins, Ph.D., M.D., Chairman, of the college’s National Advisory Board, WyHIO past chairman and board member; Larry Biggio of the WyHIO; Kathy Tacke, director of Community Impact for Southwest Wyoming; and Mary Anne Mines, Eden Valley project volunteer recently presented an informational community presentation at the Senior Center in Rock Springs.  The details of the project and what it means to health care in the Valley as well as Southwest Wyoming was presented and several questions were asked by local health care providers in the community and were each addressed before the meeting concluded.

This project is scheduled for implementation in the fall of 2012. 

For additional information, please contact Larry Biggio of the Wyoming Health Information Organization at contact@wyhio.org, 307.432.4025, or Professor Muknahallipatna of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at sureshm@uwyo.edu, 307.766.3174.

Article and photograph courtesy of Eden Valley Telehealth Clinic

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