The Southwest Public Health District is working to bring in a telemedicine component into its existing Centering Pregnancy program thanks to assistance from state officials, who invested $58,000 in a camera cart and ultrasound machine. (Outlook 2013)
ALBANY, Ga. — For the Southwest Public Health District, strengthening the Centering Pregnancy program via telemedicine, and establishing a stronger social media presence, is where the focus will be this year.
Centering Pregnancy was brought into Southwest Georgia in 2009 as a way to address the alarming prenatal care trends in the area — and has so far shown results in breastfeeding rates, low birth weights and preterm birth rates, officials say.
There are two sites within the district where the program is being offered to moms-to-be — at the Dougherty County Health Department on South Slappey Boulevard in Albany and at the Farm Worker Health Program in Ellenton. In recent months, there have been two grants received for Centering — $80,000 from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation and $30,000 from the March of Dimes.
“(This funding) will sustain the program for this year,” Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the health district and an obstetrician, said.
State officials recently footed the bill for an ultrasound machine and a camera and monitor cart for a total of $58,000 worth of equipment. There were a few thousand dollars the district had to put up for lines to be put in, which makes for a little more than $60,000 invested overall.
Through telemedicine capabilities, district officials will be able to connect with maternal and fetal medicine specialists via the Georgia Telemedicine Network — thereby allowing consultations from physicians based in Atlanta to be done remotely at the Dougherty health department.
“Instead of patients arranging for transportation, we will be able to get it done onsite,” Grant said.
The ultrasounds will be conducted in an exam room at the health department, while the cart provides a monitor with a camera attached to it to allow for a doctor to videoconference into the session — which will give the patient and physician an opportunity to interact in real time, and for the physician to look at tests that seem abnormal.
“The referrals we normally make are sometimes out of the area, or in the area — and we may not get a timely referral,” Grant said. “With a video consultation, we can provide a timely consultation.”
Grant herself will even be able to use the technology from her office on North Jackson Street.
“If a nurse comes across something I need to look at and I can’t make it (to the health department), I have camera equipment at my office. I can do a consult remotely,” she said. “I can listen to a heartbeat remotely, and can see a lesion remotely.”
The care will be provided in the area of the health department that once housed the department’s dental care services. While most of that area is being restructured to accommodate expectant mothers, there will be at least one dental chair that will remain to allow for teledenistry services down the road, Grant said.
“With such an oral health need (in the area), we didn’t want to lose all of (those services),” Grant said.
She also indicated that there is a good possibly other specialties of care the health district provides could be impacted by this technology.
The necessary equipment is in place, and is already being used to conduct meetings with officials from various parts of the 14-county health district. Training for incorporating it into the Centering program is expected to start this month.
The service should go live sometime in March, Grant said.
“When we can do more one-stop shopping, it will be a big win for us and help patients get their needs met,” she said.
Grant also added that there will be site fees billed to providers who join the network, which will serve as a revenue source for the district — although it is unclear at this point how much of an income there will be, she said.
The first order of business this year, while the telemedicine component is being initiated, will be strategic planning for the district as a means to ensure officials are doing what needs to be done for the public it serves through the most cost-effective means possible.
This is something that has not been done on a district-wide level for a few years, the district’s director said.
“It is important to take a look at what is working and what is not,” Grant said. “We are letting the data drill what we do a little more.
“With Centering, we have made sure it is worth the time and resources. It is time to step back and look at everything that way.”
Meanwhile, the health district is working toward revamping its website to make it more interactive and interesting. One of the changes will include integrating it into a system that will allow officials to post messages across multiple social media platforms, thereby streamlining the process of getting information out to people in the event of a public health emergency via the district’s website, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously.
This builds on a Facebook presence already in place that has allowed officials to respond to questions or concerns for the purpose of guaging which topics are of greatest interest.
“Tweeting information is especially helpful during emergency events, when we might want the public to know where public health is dispensing medication during an outbreak or where the closest shelter is during an evacuation event,” said Carolyn Maschke, public information officer for the district. “Of course, it can be used for non-emergency events and activities as well.
“But the important points about social media such as Facebook, Google +, YouTube, Twitter and others is that they allow for interaction between public health and the community we serve. The communication is two-way rather than one-way.”
The Facebook page “Southwest Georgia Public Health District,” has thus far been utilized to alert followers about upcoming clinics and health fairs, inform people on outbreaks the district is tracking and present opportunities to win various items including T-shirts and personal preparedness kits.
Maschke added that, in the future, the site www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org will include blogs, an interactive calendar, the ability to translate the page to another language and provide alerts for emergency updates.
“We recognize that more and more, people are turning to smart phones and computers to get and share information,” she said. “Social media gives us another tool to reach people more quickly, and to respond quickly. However, since Southwest Health District has limited resources, and a single public information officer, we are making our changes in increments.
“The Facebook page is active. The webpage has been tweaked but wholesale changes won’t be visible for some months yet. Twitter will be the last component to be added.”