ASTORIA — In emergency medical situations, each passing minute can be the difference between life and death. For the past five years, telemedicine technology has played an increasing role in saving lives of critical-care patients at Columbia Memorial Hospital.

“It’s getting more sophisticated and we’re using it a lot — several times a month,” Patient Centered Care Supervisor Cindy Nemlowill said. “It’s usually a very sick person or child.”

The program is a part of an ongoing collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). Critical care consultations with the OHSU Telemedicine Network at Columbia Memorial Hospital allows local residents to receive more treatments in their hometown hospital.

“If you’re a doctor in Portland and you had the duty, you carry a laptop. You could be watching your child’s football game and we can contact you. You turn on your laptop and are now seeing that patient here in Astoria in real time,” said Community Outreach and Marketing Manager Paul Mitchell.

“Not only do we have it for strokes but we have it for pediatrician and neonatal patients. It’s called ‘Telestroke,’ and it’s basically like a computer on steroids,” said Mitchell. “It has a camera and microphone that allows the patient and doctor to see and hear one another.” The technology bridges the distance gap for rural patients and can save time in emergency medical situations.

“We had a patient come in that was having a stroke,” Nemlowill said.

“We brought in the telemedicine computer and the neurologist comes on and looks around the room. He can see what the CT scan and EKG shows and order medication. While that’s happening we’ve already called a life flight that’s here in Warrenton. They came here in less than 10 minutes. We can have an accident happen to someone out in the field and have them in Portland within an hour.”

Improvements in imaging capabilities at CMH is fostering for a less invasive diagnosis. The technology is rare among Oregon hospitals.

“Our echo lab is among four in the state of Oregon that have the certifications,” Mitchell said. Echo sonography is similar to an ultrasound “that you do over the heart.” Pictures are taken of different valves and cardiologists usually do the readings and diagnose without doing anything invasive.

“It’s similar to how they use ultra sound to diagnose breast lumps,” said VP of Ancillary and Support Services Dr. Jarrod Karnofski. The technology is compliment in what has been increasing capabilities at CMH.

“One of the biggest things we’ve added to out infrastructure here is the human resources. We have cardiologists and electrophysiologists. If you would said 10 years ago that we would be doing pacemakers here in Astoria, nobody would believe they could come here for something like that. But we’ve done several now very successfully,” Karnofski said.

Columbia Memorial Hospital has two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines with plans in place to upgrade their imaging capabilities in the coming months.

“In our imaging department, we will have a brand new fluoroscopy room go live on Dec. 19,” Karnofski said. “You can do a lot of procedures that would normally require surgery. Now we’ll be able to do them on an out-patient basis.” A scanner anticipated in 2017 will allow doctors to closely examine the metabolic activity of cancer, a treatment that used to require patients to drive to Longview.

“Over the next few years will continue to upgrade our technology and imaging. We’ll have a mobile positron emission tomography (PET) scanning machine by next year,” said Karnofski. “With all this growth in the cancer and cardiology areas, it’s great for our elderly patients. They don’t have to travel — even if it’s for heart surgery.”

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