Emergency Telemedicine Reduces Costly Air Vacs

Automobile accidents cause many injuries that result in air transports (fixed wing aircraft or helicopter transports) for patients from rural communities. Often, patients are evacuated for evaluation at a trauma center because emergency radiology services are unavailable on-site or cannot be obtained in a timely manner. It is not unusual for rural hospitals to have to employ radiologists to diagnose their cases once or twice a week. 24/7 radiology services were virtually unheard of in rural communities prior to the advent of teleradiology. Today, teleradiology services are provided by University of Arizona College of Medicine staff radiologists and radiology residents on a 24/7 basis at 22 hospitals in rural Arizona. In emergency cases, initial diagnoses can be rendered in an hour or less in order to avoid unnecessary and costly air evacuations. University physicians diagnosed more than 70,000 radiology cases in 2003. Twenty-one radiologists, representing all of the sub-specialties in radiology, participate in the program. In 1998, Whiteriver PHS Indian Hospital on the Apache Reservation analyzed the number of air transports avoided by rapid readouts of neck computer tomography (CT) scans. A total of 27 air evacuations were avoided, at a savings of $182,000 for this procedure at this single site. Cost savings from having immediate access to radiology is enormous. By the end of 2004, over 40 hospitals in the Southwest will be linked to the University of Arizona for teleradiology services.