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Posted 03.31.06

MU Study: Technology Brings Better Health Care to Rural Areas

Traumatic Brain Injury Patients Gave High Marks to Doctors Trained by Telehealth

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The specialized health care gap between big cities and rural areas can be bridged by technology. A new study reports on a University of Missouri-Columbia telehealth program that gives health care providers high marks for participating in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) training through telehealth video conferencing.

Brick Johnstone, Laura Schopp, Stephanie Reid-Arndt.More than 60 million Americans live in rural communities, representing 20 percent of the public, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half of all counties in America have no practicing psychologists, social workers or psychiatrists, creating an array of challenges for rural patients with mental health care needs.

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Professional Psychology: Research and Practice

"Often, people in rural areas face issues such as poverty, lack of transportation and poor accessibility to health care," said Brick Johnstone, professor and chair of the MU School of Health Professions' Department of Health Psychology. "If you have a chronic health condition in St. Louis, you just catch a cab or a bus to see a specialist. However, it is much more difficult for people in rural areas."

To combat the problem, 70 adults with TBI were matched with health care providers from their home communities. Through one-on-one videoconferencing, neuropsychologists trained providers, who often must provide a wide-range of services, about traumatic brain injury. The training provided an overview of TBI and related impairments, the effect of TBI on emotional and behavioral functioning, and resources for the patients and family members. The training took place during the patients' hospitalization so the providers would be ready when the patients were discharged.

"The telehealth training allowed providers to receive support in their own rural communities, reduced their isolation and created a network of generalists with a working knowledge of specialty conditions," Johnstone said.

The study concluded that telehealth training increased clinicians' knowledge and confidence in treating patients with TBI. Also, clients viewed therapists involved in the telehealth training as more helpful and knowledgeable than providers who were not involved in the program.

The study appears in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. It was authored by Laura Schopp, MU Wellness Program Manager and associate professor of health psychology, Johnstone and Stephanie Reid-Arndt, assistant professor of health psychology at MU.



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