WISE, Va. - A lack of doctors in southwest Virginia is making it hard for patients to get access to healthcare at a reasonable price.
A new study at the University of Virginia is providing patients in our area access to care without doctors being physically present. Researchers believe the screenings are the first of its kind to be done via telemedicine.
Bladder cancer rates in southwest Virginia are rather low, but researchers believe that may not actually be the case.
"With the coal mine history and smoking history around here, I find it really hard to believe there might not be more bladder cancer than we know of, but that's what we are trying to figure out," University of Virginia Associate Professor and Vice President of Urology Dr. Tracey Krupski said.
Executive Director of the Health Wagon in Wise, Dr. Teresa Tyson says many of her patients need to be screened for bladder cancer, but the closest urologists that can perform the procedure for her patients, who are under or uninsured, are nearly 5 hours away.
"So our patients were simply going without it because they couldn't afford it," Dr. Tyson said.
"There may not be a urologist to see, and if you're under or uninsured, you may not even be able to see the urologist that's a couple of hours for you," Dr. Krupski said.
But now patients can get the procedure done without the cost or the drive.
Urologists at the University of Virginia are providing the cystoscopies at the Health Wagon in Wise via telemedicine.
Nurse practitioners at the clinic shine a light on the patient’s bladder, which shows any abnormalities on a screen. Urologists in Charlottesville can also see the screen, and then communicate their interpretation of the results to the nurse practitioner over a webcam.
Researchers believe it is the first time in the world these screenings have been done by telemedicine, and Dr. Tyson is urging people to take advantage of it.
"Those are the patients we are really looking for, the ones that have been told that they need this procedure done but they have no way of doing that. Call the Health Wagon and we will get them in," Dr. Tyson said.
The pilot program is funded by the American Cancer Society and the state.