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Cyber checkups connect patients with doctors miles away

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ATLANTA -

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is offering cyber checkups as a way for some to see a doctor without making a road trip.

With chronic asthma, Jaeqvous Bethay and his mom, Kara, are used to coming to the doctor's office, but now it's easier for them. They can sit an exam room in Valdosta while lung specialist Dr. Dawn Simon is at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston 228 miles away.

"Many of them don't grasp that we're so far away,that we're talking to them over a computer," Simon said.

Children's Telemedicine Program Manager Jill Davis says her hospital system needed a way to reach thousands of kids who live nowhere close to their hospital.

"Because if I had a child that had a chronic illness, or was very sick, the last thing I would want to do is get in my car and drive to Atlanta," Davis said.

With the help of an on-site nurse and a high-definition camera, Dr. Simon can examine Jaeqvous without ever actually touching him herself.

"She's my hands, and I can see a lot of things, and together we can hear heart and lung sounds just as well as if I were standing at the bedside," Simon said. "The little kids are really funny. They look at the camera, they see themselves.  Everybody gets a big kick out of looking in their ears and seeing earwax."

The Telemedicine program connects specialists with kids in 20 rural clinics, some in schools. In its first year in 2009, doctors saw 88 kids this way. Last year, they treated 971.

"It's just like being at the doctor's office," Davis said. "You call and you talk to a scheduler and you say, ‘OK, I will be at this location, at this time, to see this physician.' It's exactly like that.  The only difference is they're just not in the same room with the physician."

Bethay said she wasn't sure what to expect from the cyber checkup,

"It seems it works a lot," Bethay said.  "I mean we don't have to actually drive up to Atlanta, we can actually see her here."     

The Children's Telemedicine Program now connects kids with specialists in nine areas from cardiology to psychiatry to sports medicine.

For Jaeqvous, it means no long road trip and much easier access to a specialist. He'll leave the clinic with the prescriptions he can get filled right in Valdosta.

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