3-D video to improve quality of children’s psychiatric services

Videoconferencing has been used to provide child psychiatry services across Washington since 2001, treating 700 children between the ages the ages of 2 and 18.

With funding from the Legislature, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle began a project in six cities, including Yakima and Wenatchee in Eastern Washington and Longview in southwest Washington.

Services are available half a day, two to four days a week, treating kids who were abused or have conditions such as bipolar disorder, said Dr. Kathleen Myers, a Children’s psychiatrist.

When the new 3D TelePresence service kicks off in April, serving four Eastern Washington counties, its high-speed connections should provide yet another step up in the service with improved sound and images.

The new technology “is really meant to make you feel more and more like you’re in the same room together,” Myers said. “It’s the next closest thing to a hologram for those of us who are Star Trek fans.”

Arizona was one of the first states in the nation to provide psychiatric services through teleconferencing. Since 1996, 39,000 patients from communities spread over 62,000 square miles have been treated by the North Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority.

More than three-quarters of patients responding to a recent survey said the quality of the televised psychiatric services was as good as traditional, one-on-one counseling, said Nancy Rowe, telemedicine program manager.

Videoconferencing saves the organization an estimated 8,000 miles of driving a month, she said, as well as providing services to some extremely rural parts of the state, such as communities north of the Grand Canyon.

Providing psychiatric services to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them is just one example of how technology is being used in health care, said Jon Linkous, executive director of the American Telemedicine Association in Washington, D.C.

One of its most common uses is to allow radiologists to examine digital X-rays from other locations, sometimes across the world. So when an Idaho radiologist moved to Sydney, Australia, his company used the technology to allow him to continue to provide services, Linkous said.

Nationally, nearly 2,000 hospitals in the United States are now using this technology for interpreting X-rays, he said.

Technology is also being used to monitor 30,000 veterans with heart conditions in their homes, using phone lines to download information, Linkous said.

And “baby cams” are being used to allow parents to call a hospital and talk to prematurely born babies who are being treated in neonatal intensive care units.

It isn’t just a feel-good technological development, Linkous said. It’s been shown to improve bonding between babies and their parents.

Telemedicine began with research projects in the 1950s using telephones and television to assist with health-care services.

“Now we’re at the stage where all this unique research and demonstration programs are going into the regular use of medicine,” Linkous said.

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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