As Kentucky’s leading medical institutions, such as UK HealthCare in Lexington and the University of Louisville and Jewish Hospital in Louisville, increase their research efforts and add more top-flight talent, providers in the rural areas of the state are benefiting from the enhanced medical care they provide.
“It brings a lot more specialists into the state, and through telemedicine programs, rural hospitals have access to specialists they may not otherwise have had,” says Mike Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association.
University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare
The University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare have two missions from a clinical point of view, says Dr. Michael Karpf, University of Kentucky vice president of health affairs. One is to develop top specialty-care programs that keep patients in the state for treatment. The other is to stress the inclusion of rural providers through such means as outreach programs, telemedicine and rotating specialists into outlying hospitals.
“It has allowed us to develop more robust research programs and to develop exceptional medical education programs,” he says.
The programs have enabled partner facilities to treat patients locally who would have sought treatment elsewhere, preserving much needed lines of revenue for rural hospitals.
The state’s major medical centers have accomplished a long list of medical firsts.
Jewish Hospital in Louisville
Jewish Hospital, through its partnership with the University of Louisville School of Medicine, performed the first hand transplant in the nation in 1999, and has since developed the Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center.
In July 2009, Jewish Hospital and University of Louisville physicians conducted the world’s first Phase One, Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trial using cardiac stem cells to treat heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center are investigating the ability of a protein that allows maintenance of healthy levels of stem cells in bone marrow during chemotherapy.
UofL Health Care
Among efforts to connect rural providers with the specialists and researchers, UofL Health Care (which includes the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center, University of Louisville Hospital and University Physicians Associates) has developed a remote-physician presence robot network. The system allows UofL doctors to provide remote patient consultations with patients in rural hospitals by using a robot (standing 5 feet 6 inches tall) connected via a secured connection.
Through its UK Center for Excellence in Rural Health, in Hazard, the university works to increase the number of physicians practicing in rural areas. Eighty percent of the medical professionals graduating from the center’s programs are practicing in rural areas. UK HealthCare specialists have regular rotations at rural hospitals.
Clinical volumes at the medical center in Lexington have grown from 19,000 discharges in 2003 to a projected 34,000 in the 2010. National Institutes of Health funding for the center’s research has grown from $50 million in 2003 to $80 million in 2009, and the system’s payroll has increased from $365 million in 2004 to a projected $638 million for 2010.
As patients throughout the state remain in their communities longer to receive treatment and then transfer to medical centers in Lexington or Louisville for more complex treatment, the benefits continue to multiply.
“Those are dollars that are kept in state. As we help those regional providers, they send the complex patients to us and that is one of the reasons we’ve grown so dramatically,” he says.