By Lou Anne Wolfe
Journal Record Staff Reporter
A 25-hospital computerized telemedicine network in Oklahoma
should be functioning by December or January, Oklahoma Commerce
Secretary Greg Main said Monday.
As reported last week, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce is
making available $3.4 million in federal community development
block grant funds for purchase of equipment, installation,
training and two years of transmission costs.
Some 52 "rural" Oklahoma hospitals qualify for the system,
although some are more rural than others. Main said selection of
the final 25 would depend partially on whether the patient
population was dominantly low-to-moderate income people, and
whether the hospital could contribute some money toward the
Linkage of six rural hospitals to the University of Oklahoma
Health Sciences Center is already under way, funded by $550,000
in oil overcharge money. The new project, the Oklahoma
Telemedicine Network, will expand that early effort. To date,
Choctaw Memorial Hospital in Hugo is on line, and the hospital in
Frederick should be connected by mid-September.
"Oklahoma is launching what we believe is the largest
telemedicine project of its kind in the world," said Gov. David
Walters at a Monday news conference announcing the project.
"Politicians are given to exaggeration and understatement, and I
understand that, but this is the absolute truth."
Dr. James Logan, project consultant for the Health Sciences
Center, said the system would be unique because it would use
computers. Existing telemedicine projects use television, he
The state leaders said they hope to enable rural hospitals to
keep from closing, thus bolstering the fragile economies of those
areas. Logan said the computer consultation provided by the
equipment could stimulate competition among the providers of
expertise, to the point that professional costs could be
In telemedicine, experts in medical centers in other cities
could analyze medical data, such as X-rays, via the computer
lines and deliver an opinion in about 60 minutes, Logan said. For
some Oklahoma towns, getting an X-ray read by a board-certified
radiologist can take six to eight days. From Guymon, X-rays have
to be shipped to Amarillo by truck, he said.
Cost to the patients of telemedicine service is a little
uncertain. Using X-rays as an example, Logan said the patient
currently is charged a technical fee for use of the facilities,
and a professional fee for the radiologist. That would be the
same arrangement in telemedicine, he said.
What's unclear is whether the hospital would tack on a
telecommunication charge as a cost to the patient, he said. In
any case, treatment in rural hospitals traditionally is lower
cost than in urban hospitals, so ability to stay at the rural
location would be economical, Logan said.
Walters said the Rural Development Summit he convened in 1991
identified expanded and improved health care services as a rural
Oklahoma priority. "With the launch of the Oklahoma Telemedicine
Network, we are beginning to address that priority in a manner
which will have an immediate and very positive impact," he said.
Main said a statewide telecommunications network was one of
four primary strategies of "Oklahoma 2007," the vision adopted
last year by Oklahoma Futures, the appointed advisory board to
the commerce department. The idea also was discussed last year at
the Governor's Conference on Telecommunications.
Block grant funds for the pilot project will be awarded
through a competitive process, Main said. "In order to be
eligible to apply, a hospital must have 100 or fewer beds, be
owned by a city or county government, be nonprofit in operation
and be located in a rural area," he said. Eligible applicants
will be ranked according to criteria, and grants will be awarded
from the top ranking down until all available funds are awarded,
he said. …