38 Hospitals Win Funding for Telemedicine Program

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Journal Record Staff Reporter

Thirty-eight rural Oklahoma hospitals have been approved to share in funding for a $4.18 million telemedicine program, Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Greg Main said Wednesday.

Organizers of the telemedicine communication project are the commerce department and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

At a meeting of the State Data Processing and Telecommunications Advisory Committee, Main said outside, local funding had enabled the commerce department to expand the number of project hospitals from 25 to 38. Of the total funds, $3.4 million are Community Development Block Grant funds and $786,632 are from other sources.

Much of the outside funding came from hospitals, he said.

Committee members also heard presentations from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on telecommunication plans. Staff members from those agencies were told by some committee members they are expected to coordinate telecommunication planning _ ideally, through the committee.

Moreover, committee member Sen. Darryl Roberts, D-Ardmore, said he'd pre-filed a bill for the 1994 Legislature that would set up a central authority for coordination of telecommunications in the state or its political subdivisions. Under his legislation, "everything must coordinate through this (proposed) state agency," Roberts said.

"I'm also going to propose that the Office of State Finance start getting together all agencies they think are going to be participating in this."

Many people are interested in the committee's activities. One of its duties is to decide how to spend $14 million from this year's massive capital improvement bond issue which was earmarked for telecommunications.

Goal of the telemedicine program is to expand services at rural hospitals for all patients and drastically reduce the number of patients currently referred to major urban areas for advance care, Main said. The program is aimed at enhancing rural development by stabilizing local hospitals, and reducing the per capita cost of medical care.

Also, it is hoped that having the network available will encourage more doctors to practice in rural areas, because they won't feel as professionally isolated. …