Bakersfield – History is in the making in Kern County. The Southern California & Nevada Chapter is set to become the first chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society to launch telemedicine to bring access to MS specialty care to the uninsured and underinsured. Kern and Ventura Counties were chosen to serve as pilot sites for the initiative. At the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting in Bakersfield on December 10, an agreement is expected to be signed between Kern Medical Center and UCLA, bringing telemedicine for people with MS one step closer to reality.
Staff and volunteers at the Southern California & Nevada Chapter have been exploring ways to deliver MS specialty care to rural and remote areas through telemedicine since 2008. “Soon after, Dr. Barbara Giesser [Clinical Director of UCLA MS Clinical Services] expressed an interest in helping people with MS in Kern County,” explained Audra Hindes, the Chapter’s Senior Director for Clinical Programs, Services, and Advocacy. “We then discovered Kern Medical Center (KMC) was already wired for telemedicine. We put two and two together to organize a meeting to discuss further steps.” The first meeting was held in May of 2011. Now all that is left is the signing of the contract between KMC and UCLA, and an okay on the equipment.
The contract will go into effect January 1, 2013 and as soon as technicians give the green light with the equipment, the one-year pilot program will begin. An MS Clinic Day will be scheduled once a month. At KMC, local neurologist Dr. Katayoun Sabetian will schedule patients needing a second opinion on an MS diagnosis or new treatment management plans. Medical histories will be forwarded in advance of the consultations, which will be conducted by Dr. Giesser. Both UCLA and KMC will use telemedicine equipment consisting of videoconferencing units that enable real-time, high quality, face-to-face visits. The consults will offer input on diagnosis and/or treatment, and will develop a care plan to manage the course of each person’s disease. Kim Kotrla, Director for the Chapter’s San Joaquin Valley Region, will also be on-hand to complement the specialty care with MS education and case management.
“We are hoping to have 25 to 30 people seen through this project in the first year, and that people who have this opportunity will be able to confirm their MS diagnosis, better understand their symptoms and need for treatment options,” said Hindes. “We think this service will also educate the health care professionals on the KMC side of the complexities of multiple sclerosis care.” The consultations will serve the uninsured, underinsured and those who cannot self-pay, as well as people on Medi-Cal, which often does not reimburse for telemedicine, or does so at a low rate.
About Multiple Sclerosis
· Every hour in the United States, someone is newly diagnosed with MS, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system.
· Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The advancement, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer toward a world free of MS.
· Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with more than twice as many women as men being diagnosed with the disease.
· MS affects more than 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.1 million worldwide.
About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
· The National MS Society helps each person address the challenges of living with MS through our 50-state network of chapters.
· Through our home office and 50-state network of chapters, we fund more MS research, provide more services to people with MS, offer more professional education and further more advocacy efforts than any other MS organization in the world.
· The Society is dedicated to achieving a world free of MS. We are people who want to do something about MS now. Join the movement at www.nationalMSsociety.org.