Thanks to technology, telemedicine is an expanding field that provides immediate answers to thousands of people in their time of need. Beginning in 1996, the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) opened with eight clinics, and now covers 160 clinics that provide medical and healthcare services to rural communities. The program, in its 20th year, continues to exceed expectations and show steady growth.
The director and co-founder of The Arizona Telemedicine Program, Ronald S. Weinstein, MD credits the success of the program to state legislators and lawmakers, agency officials, physicians, hospital, and insurance executives for their continuous support, time, and altruism. The Arizona Telemedicine Council (ATC) would not have been possible without their impact, which in turn means the ATP would not see expansion to communities that need it.
In an earlier interview, Weinstein, a former head of pathology at the University of Arizona, credits the ATC for their community input and members that keep the program functioning outside the walls of the University. He stresses that the ATC is an invaluable asset in reference to the ATP. He also gives accolades to the Council for maintaining an all-encompassing viewpoint of the current status of new healthcare procedures and keeping abreast of the latest in changes that occur in the health care field, as they come available. With members both in the public and private sectors of medicine, they keep the ATC informed of the latest developments regarding the government and community needs.
Former state Representative, Bob Burns, is co-founder of the Arizona Telemedicine Program is now also a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission and works alongside Dr. Weinstein. Burns, in attendance at the country’s first telemedicine program in Augusta, Georgia, which is where he initially thought about the idea of starting a similar program at the University of Arizona.
Upon his return to UA, Burns met with James Dalen, MD, the dean of the UA College of Medicine. Dalen was in agreement that a similar program could be put in place at the UA, with Dr. Weinstein serving as director of the telemedicine program.
At the time, they did not know what a positive impact the program would have in the communities and for the rural communities in the area. Burns service record with the program is impressive; he has been in attendance at 69 out of 71 quarterly meetings of the council to date. According to Weinstein, “he has an amazing record of civic leadership.” The program would not be the success it is today however without the collaborative effort put forth by all who actively support, fund, and volunteer their talents and services to the project.
Healthcare is an essential part of any community. Without access to adequate healthcare, society is at a disadvantage. Telemedicine not only makes access easier, but it also provides so much more within the community as a whole. The advances in medicine happen at a rapid pace, and without those who stay up to date on the latest in technology and medical procedures and medications, the Arizona Telemedicine Program would not be able to serve the rural areas.
Funding for the ATC and ATP is also a crucial part in the effort to provide healthcare to individuals that otherwise would have no means to see a doctor or receive valuable medical advice and assistance when they need it.
In addition, as a direct result of the Councils input, several other offshoots from the program’s original concept have been possible. One of these is the continuing education component to the ATP. This component is responsible for keeping rural medical professionals aware of the newest developments in medicine and teaching them how to best utilize them in their practices, without them having to drive to Tucson or Phoenix.
With the newly announced expansion to 160 rural communities, it only proves that the University of Arizona’s telemedicine program is not only providing assistance to those seeking healthcare, but also the medical professionals that provide care in areas outside major cities. With the brainchild of Burns, and Weinstein’s continued commitment to quality healthcare, the Arizona Telemedicine Program will see continuous growth and will be an asset not only to the state of Arizona, but also as a platform for other states to become active in their communities. Telemedicine rides the wave of new technology each and every day. The Arizona Telemedicine Council and Arizona Telemedicine Program will serve as models for others to achieve the same level of commitment and knowledge.