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Clinic in Benavides receives grant for telemedicine (10/21/97)

A medical clinic in Benavides will receive $294,000 to establish a model of how rural clinics will use technology in patient care.

The announcement was made Tuesday via satellite by Vice President Al Gore and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who were in New Orleans.

The Agriculture Department grant will be used by the Chaparral Health Clinic Inc., which treats about 3,000 patients a year in Benavides, a city of 1,800 that is located 70 miles west of Corpus Christi.

The clinic will install teleconferencing equipment that allows its doctors to conduct live consultations with medical specialists in other cities while the patient is present. Corpus Christi and San Antonio have the only other medical facilities in South Texas with similar equipment to conduct "telemedicine," real-time patient sessions with physicians at remote sites.

The clinic will be connected with high-capacity transmission lines to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 135 miles north of Benavides. The Health Science Center is the hub of a teleconferencing network that connects other medical and educational sites throughout South Texas.

"The connection will allow personnel in Benavides to conduct teleconferencing sessions at several medical sites in San Antonio and other cities," said Helen Cronenberger, PhD, director of the Health Science Center's Center for Distance Learning and Telehealth, a partner in the project.

A viewing site for the vice president's satellite feed was set up at Benavides Independent School District Primary Library.

The grant, one of 50 nationwide and the only one given in Texas for a medical facility, also will help establish computerized patient tracking at Benavides and affiliated clinics in Cotulla, Gonzales and at Santa Rosa Children's Hospital in San Antonio, said Tocho Canales, Chaparral's executive director.

Using a data network server at the Health Science Center, the Benavides site will keep computerized patient records and make them accessible so physicians at the affiliated clinics know a patient's medical background, Canales said.

With the grant, the site will be able to link to many health centers, allowing access to specialists and medical information, he said. "The idea is for every health institution in the state to have equal access," Canales said.

The clinic also will test a teleconferencing technology called "store-and-forward," Dr. Cronenberger said. Using telemedicine equipment, doctors and patients at two separate locations can consult in real-time, much as a telephone conversation would transpire. Using store-and-transfer, doctors can send audio, video or high-resolution imagery to a remote site for review by specialists or consultants at a later time. Store-and-forward is useful for non-emergency situations because it requires less bandwidth for transmission, and therefore can be more economical, she said. Bandwidth describes a transmission line's capacity for carrying data.

In-kind contributions from the Health Science Center and Santa Rosa Children's Hospital will amount to about $282,000 in the first year of operation.

Contact: Jim Barrett (210) 567-2570