3 ways telemedicine is helping Wyoming

'It's got everything to do with expanding access to healthcare in Wyoming. It's something we get to do for our community.'

In the rural West, neighbors often come in handy. And nowhere is that probably more true than in Wyoming. With a mere 5.8 inhabitants per square mile – only Alaska is more "open," with 1.2 inhabitants per square mile – Wyoming has a tradition of neighbor helping neighbor on just about everything that matters.

Take health IT, for example. Sheridan, Wyo.-based Ptolemy Data Systems doesn't consider itself part of the healthcare sector, but since 2009 the data storage and managed services provider has been increasingly involved in connecting healthcare providers across the state.

According to Ryan Mulholland, Ptolemy's president and CEO, "The company sees its role as being a facilitator. We house technology and work with clinics across the state, helping them make their connections. It's a very different arrangement than a hospital providing telemedicine services."

This willingness to pitch in has enabled Ptolemy to contribute to Wyoming's burgeoning telemedicine movement, which, Mulholland said, "began to get serious attention about four years ago."

Since then, three programs have stood out among Wyoming's myriad efforts.

1. Converged Management Application (CMA). Not a specific program, but a multi-faceted technology, Polycom's CMA video conferencing technology has enabled providers across the state to exchange information with unprecedented ease. According to a 2011 report from the Wyoming Telehealth Consortium, CMA "allows desktop units to be able to connect in a secure, HIPAA compliant manner with other desktops and also with video conferencing systems already present" in hospitals and clinics across the state. Cardiologists, mental health specialists and nursing homes have all taken advantage of CMA in order to share information with colleagues.

2. Prison health services. Using telemedicine capabilities, the Wyoming department of Prison Health Services has been able to dramatically increase the range of clinical services, including mental health and specialist services. In 2011, approximately 2000 physician visits were conducted via remote connection.

3. Wyoming Telepsychiatry Project. For Ptolemy, a point of pride is its involvement in a state-funded pilot project for which the company was engaged to create a statewide telemedicine network to bring much-needed medical and psychiatric care to isolated communities. Largely as a result of this work, the Wyoming Department of Health recently awarded Ptolemy a contract to expand its support of telemedicine services for all state-funded healthcare facilities and public health offices.

As Ryan Mulholland sees it, Ptolemy's involvement in telemedicine services "isn't about the money. It's got everything to do with expanding access to healthcare in Wyoming. It's something we get to do for our community."

[See also: Telemedicine bills in state hoppers]