Special to The Island News
South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) is shining the spotlight on Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s newest venture into telemedicine.
The public television network recently videotaped a segment about a pilot program that offers patients with heart issues in rural Hampton County virtual visits with their cardiologist in Beaufort, saving them the hour drive to the coast.
The telemedicine service is available at Beaufort Memorial’s Harrison Peeples Health Care Center in Varnville. With the help of an on-site medical assistant and a cart equipped with an adjustable video camera and oversized computer screen, Beaufort Memorial cardiologist Dr. Stuart Smalheiser can talk with a patient face-to-face. Peripheral tools on the cart, including a blood pressure cuff and internet-connected stethoscope, allow him to examine the patient remotely.
Smalheiser visits the clinic in person several times a month. But when he’s not in Varnville, he offers follow-up appointments via the telemedicine technology.
“It’s a great way to manage urgent needs and expedite care as a bridge to the next office visit,” said Smalheiser, who practices with Beaufort Memorial Heart Specialists and is board certified in general, nuclear and interventional cardiology. “Eventually, we want to provide telemedicine access every day of the week.”
Part of the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, SCETV has created more than 90 videos featuring elements of telehealth being used in the Palmetto State.
“The videos tell the stories of patients who have experienced telehealth,” SCETV digital media manager and producer Tabitha Safdi said. “Many of them live in underserved or rural areas of the state that have limited access to health care.”
Taking top billing in the Varnville video is Andrea Robinson, one of the first patients to use Harrison Peeples’ telemedicine service. The crew taped a visit with his primary care provider, board-certified family medicine specialist Dr. Brad Kelly, as well as a telemedicine consult with Dr. Smalheiser.
“It’s convenient for our patients to be able to see specialists without having to go all the way to Beaufort,” Kelly said. “And it’s nice for our specialists to see our patients in Varnville without having to come all the way out here and disrupt their schedule. I would love to see more of it.”
For Robinson and his wife, the telemedicine option has been a godsend.
A resident of Hampton for 30-plus years, Robinson became concerned about his health when he began experiencing shortness of breath two years ago. Suspecting it was heart-related, Kelly referred him to Smalheiser in Beaufort.
After undergoing several tests, Robinson was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a problem related to the heart muscle weakening, causing it to pump inefficiently. Symptoms can include shortness of breath and edema.
Until his condition was stabilized, Robinson had to make trips to Beaufort several weeks running.
“They didn’t want me driving, so my wife would have to take off from work every time I had an appointment with the cardiologist,” Robinson said. “It was very inconvenient.”
Today, he sees Smalheiser every few months, often via video.
“I don’t mind the telehealth appointments at all,” Robinson said. “I can see Dr. Smalheiser’s face and he can see mine. The cart has a stethoscope so he can hear my lungs and heart. It’s been a big help not having to ask my wife to take me to Beaufort.”
Just shorter than four minutes, the video can be seen on SCETV’s website or at BeaufortMemorial.org/TelehealthSCETV.