ANNAPOLIS – Although Dr. Michael Bunnemeyer lives in Arnold, he once practiced medicine in Friendsville, a small town in northwestern Garrett County. With the help of “telemedicine,” he hopes to be able to do so again.
Friendsville, a community of fewer than 600 people, has been without a physician since January.
“There’s a lot of retired people here, people that don’t like to drive,” said Friendsville pharmacist Jerry Wolford. “It’s been quite a hardship.”
Bunnemeyer now corresponds with Wolford by e-mail, and has occasionally made the four-hour drive to visit the town.
“It’s not telemedicine,” he said. “I haven’t seen any patients [from Friendsville] since I left there, nor have I given medical advice.”
Telemedicine is essentially the use of high technology to practice medicine over a long distance. For example, a doctor or nurse dealing with an unfamiliar condition could electronically transmit images of patients, X-rays, test results, etc., to specialists in other hospitals.
Bunnemeyer plans to attend a conference on telemedicine, which the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland will hold Saturday at the BWI Airport Marriott. “Telemedicine: Past, Present, Promise” is intended for physicians, medical students and other health professionals.
“For the last two years at our meetings we’ve had various presenters dealing with telemedicine,” said Med Chi spokeswoman Jane Short. “They have been standing room only.”
Among the topics under discussion will be how advances in technology are changing health care, the uses of telemedicine in emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, dermatology, radiology and diabetic retinopathy screening, and the costs of telemedicine and how to address them.
The Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, or Med Chi, was established in 1799 to set standards for Maryland physicians. It has about 6,000 members.
The conference will also look at the effect of telemedicine on medical licensure. A bill introduced in the Maryland State Senate last session would have required physicians to have a “special purpose license” to practice interstate telemedicine for Maryland patients.
To obtain such a license, a physician would have had to apply to the State Board of Physician Quality Assurance, be licensed in another state and have a clean record.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Board of Physician Quality Assurance requested that the bill be withdrawn until the issue could be studied further. It was, and a study is under way. For more information on Saturday’s conference, call 1-800- 492-1056. -30-