Modern medicine…right at home

Published 10:04 am Thursday, June 7, 2012

GREENVILLE – Technological advances in the field of medicine can now administer care without the need for the patient to leave home.

A grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to four northeastern North Carolina medical facilities, including Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie, strengthens that miracle of medicine in the digital age.

On her Wednesday tour of North Carolina, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan made a stop in Greenville to announce the recipients of USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grants during a visit to Vidant Health.

“Access to quality medical care around the clock is the foundation for a healthy, thriving community,” said Merrigan. “USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants such as those awarded today to Vidant Health and the Ocracoke Health Center ensure all North Carolina residents have crucial access to state-of-the-art telecommunications equipment connecting patients with medical professionals.”

The funds will be utilized to provide distance learning and telemedicine services to North Carolina communities. Vidant Health’s Pitt Memorial Hospital Foundation received $161,047 in grant funding to provide video and audio telemedicine equipment to increase health care in four northeastern counties of rural North Carolina. Partnering with Vidant Health, Vidant Medical Center in Greenville will serve as the tertiary hospital to extend its specialty services to Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital as well as Vidant Duplin Hospital in Duplin County, Vidant Chowan Hospital in Edenton and Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro.

In addition, Ocracoke Health Center will receive $358,967 in grant funding for the purchase of cart-based video conferencing units specialized for medical practice that will allow 12 simultaneous connections with high definition video.  The project also includes peripheral technology such as digital stethoscopes for exams and laptops used to access patient records.

“When you see first hand the rural nature of the communities here in your part of the state, you realize the importance of this grant and how it will impact and improve healthcare delivery in these rural communities,” Merrigan said during an exclusive telephone interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

“Medical patients living in rural areas are often faced with having to travel great distances to visit with health specialists,” Merrigan continued. “The grant funding announced today will help provide consultation between a patient and their medical provider from the comfort of their home. This improves the quality of life.”

Merrigan added that the upgrade in medical technology provided by this grant only works hand in hand with broadband availability.

“That’s why the current administration in Washington, DC has made it a priority to have broadband Internet available in the more rural areas of our nation,” she said.

“These distance learning and telemedicine grants, administered through the Rural Utilities Service can eliminate the barriers of time and distance that often challenge rural areas,” said Randall Gore, USDA Rural Development State Director.

Dave McRae, chief executive officer of Vidant Health, said the funds will help doctors in rural hospitals keep patients in their local community hospitals when it is safe and appropriate to do so, rather than transferring them to Vidant Medical Center for intensive care.

“This grant is a step in the right direction of allowing patients to receive much-needed intensive care closer to home,” McRae said. “This will increase our community doctors’ ability to deliver the high-tech care patients need, closer to home.”

Of the four regional hospitals engaged in the program, only Vidant Edgecombe Hospital has an intensive care specialist, commonly known as an intensivist. As a result, patients requiring intensive care often are transported to Vidant Medical Center, the 861-bed flagship hospital in


With funding from the USDA grant, doctors and nurses will use video conferencing units, laptops with cameras and software that supports telemedicine across the Vidant Health network. The equipment is portable; doctors and nurses can roll it into a patient’s room so the doctors, nurses, patients and even family members can communicate instantaneously.

Because of the portability of the equipment, regional hospital doctors will be able to consult with an intensivist at either the hospital, the office or home.

Dr. Mark Mazer, director of the Vidant Medical Center Medical Intensive Care Unit and division chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, said telemedicine offers tremendous possibilities for patients and physicians in a region as large as eastern North Carolina.

“From a holistic perspective, patients and their families are best served being cared for in familiar surroundings,” Mazer said. “It will provide physicians in the smaller, local hospitals access to expertise, which will allow them to confidently care for their patients closer to home.”

Mazer added that by avoiding the stress and hardship of transfer to a larger, unfamiliar facility for care, patients and their families will feel more at ease.

“An additional benefit will be less demand for intensive care unit beds at Vidant Medical Center, thus better assuring the most critically ill patients access to these beds when in need,” Mazer said.

Since its creation in 1993, the DLT program has invested $306 million to fund more than 920 projects in 48 states and four territories.

USDA Rural Development has seven Area Offices and 14 field offices across the state serving North Carolinians living in rural areas and communities.  Area Office locations are in Asheville, Shelby, Lumberton, Asheboro, Henderson, Kinston and Smithfield.  Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting the USDA Rural Development website at



About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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