Arizona sees teleradiology benefit on grand scale

February 3, 2003

The benefits of teleradiology apply naturally to vast territories like Arizona, the sixth largest state in the U.S. in square miles. It boasts an area larger than Greece or the U.K. The Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) is a multidisciplinary, effort

The benefits of teleradiology apply naturally to vast territories like Arizona, the sixth largest state in the U.S. in square miles. It boasts an area larger than Greece or the U.K.

The Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) is a multidisciplinary, effort based at the University of Arizona that includes teleradiology services. It now provides medical services via both real-time and store-and-forward technologies to 20 communities throughout the state.

The financial benefits of ATP's teleradiology component are readily apparent.

"In one community in the first year of implementation, utilization of ATP allowed for an annual savings of 26 air evacuations for trauma-related radiology services," said Dr. Ana María López, ATP's medical director.

This amounted to a savings of $177,892 per year or $6842 per evacuation, which López broke down as follows:

?$ 5000 - medical evacuation flight cost
?$ 1000 - one night inpatient at University Medical Center
?$ 500 - emergency physician consult
?$ 500 - ground transportation home (ambulance)
?$ 7000 - subtotal
?$ 158 - less teleradiology consult
?$ 6842 - total savings per evacuation

To date, ATP has conducted more than 45,000 teleradiology consultations. The service is so successful it is now being implemented in many Native American communities, López said.

A key factor in the success of ATP is its track record in research and technology transfer.

In 1973, the radiology department at the UA College of Medicine formed a Digital Imaging Group, including physicians and experts in computer sciences and electrical engineering, cognitive psychology, and optical sciences. It has provided telemedicine services, distance learning, informatics training, and telemedicine technology assessment capabilities to communities throughout the state.

Then, in 1991, the university enticed Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, a pioneer in the field of robotic telemedicine, to lead the group. He immediately initiated collaboration with the radiology team.

Weinstein's interest in telemedicine goes back to its roots. He trained at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard at the time the first multiservice telemedicine program was established, linking Boston's Logan Airport to Mass General.