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Grant will expand Asante's telemedicine system

GRANTS PASS - A newly funded medical data network will link clinics and hospitals, helping more than 100 doctors diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications more efficiently and save rural patients trips to clinics.

With a nearly $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the telemedicine network which now joins Asante facilities in Jackson County will be expanded to take in Three Rivers Community Hospital, four rural medical clinics in Cave Junction and Wolf Creek and 100-plus doctors in the Mid-Rogue Independent Physicians Association.

The Asante Regional Medical Network, as it's called, improves patient care for rural residents by electronically transmitting medical information, lab results and diagnostic-level medical images such as X-rays, electrocardiograms, MRIs or anything that can be sent digitally, said Asante Development Director Sandy Olson.

"It allows doctors to consult with other authorities in the network and respond to medical situations much more quickly. They can transmit physician-ordered entries (to patient files) and write or change prescriptions online, greatly cutting the time it takes to get the best medications," she said.

Asante used a $330,565 grant from USDA's Rural Utilities Service last fall to build the infrastructure for the Josephine County telemedical network. The $499,750 grant this week will install software and get the system online over the next three months, she said.

The project totals $2.1 million, with Asante funding the remainder. Grant money will be used to develop training, operational support and management services over the next two years, said David Preszler, of Asante marketing and communication.

The network presently connects Rogue Valley Medical Center, Genesis Recovery Center in Central Point, Hearthstone Nursing Facility in Medford and Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

"The network will improve patient care for rural residents by making available medical information in (Josephine County) communities that previously was unavailable," Preszler said. "This will allow more patients to stay in their communities for their health care."

Medical images and lab results will be transmitted quickly and securely for diagnoses outside the patient's medical community, eliminating the need for couriers and greatly reducing the number of visits by rural patients to clinics outside their home area, he added.

Patients will be able to research on the telemedical net, using terminals at kiosks at Three Rivers Hospital's Resource Center and the Siskiyou Community Health Center in Grants Pass and at Lorna rne Middle School and Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction.

The network will give healthcare workers instant access to the latest medical research and help fill the gap of knowledge created by the reluctance of specialists to live in rural settings, Preszler said.

"Attracting specialists to Josephine County has been a problem because of the county's rural nature and economy. This network will allow physicians here to consult and meet with the best specialists in the world from their office, providing rural patients with the care of specialists in a cost-effective manner."

The system transmits on telephone lines but is not part of the Web. Eventually, it will join Internet II, the vast, nonpublic internet for universities and research hospitals, Olson said.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at.