The University of Alabama

UA Professor Expands Knowledge of Telemedicine

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Telemedicine is a key component to providing specialty care in rural areas, said one University of Alabama professor.

Medical services in rural counties are generally provided by primary care physicians, said Dr. Lloyda Williamson, an associate professor in the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of the University Medical Center’s telemedicine program. When a patient needs specialty services, he would have to drive to a larger medical center.

“People in rural Alabama often have difficulty with transportation, so they may not be able to access those larger facilities, or they might put off obtaining those services until their illness becomes more severe, and they end up dealing with complications,” she said. “If someone was able to go to a physician’s office or a community hospital and have access not only to that primary care physician, but also one or more specialists via video conferencing, it just simplifies the process.”

With the help of a $2,500 Southeast Conference Visiting Faculty Travel Grant, Williamson had an opportunity to see how telemedicine programs work in other places. She selected the University of Kentucky in Lexington because the school’s program was established for many years. For three days, Williamson met with administrators and physicians involved in the school’s telemedicine program, visited the telemedicine clinics and learned more about the program’s financial, organizational and technical structure.

“Telemedicine can be used multiple ways – providing clinical services, providing education and support to individuals in rural Alabama and providing education to medical students and clinicians,” she said.

Telemedicine services not only increase access to specialists but are also cost effective. An individual spends more time and money each time he leaves rural Alabama to go to a larger city, to have an appointment with a specialist.

UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, which is also a regional campus for medical students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham – School of Medicine, provides telemedicine services in psychiatry and diabetes education in several rural areas, including the West Alabama Mental Health Center, which serves Greene, Hale, Sumter, Marengo, and Choctaw Counties, as well as DeKalb County. The goal is to expand telemedicine at the college to become a “true department,” Williamson said.

“We have to figure out what the needs are in rural Alabama, how to connect with people, both clinicians and individuals, what services we should provide and how we involve specialists in Tuscaloosa to partner with us to provide those services,” she said. Collaboration may also occur with specialists outside of Tuscaloosa.

The grant program seeks to enhance faculty collaboration among SEC universities and gives faculty from an SEC university the opportunity to travel to another SEC campus to exchange ideas, develop grant proposals, conduct research and present lectures. Williamson’s was one of four grants allocated to UA.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.