Telemedicine program allows doctor in Portugal see patients in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Patients at Children's Mercy Hospital are now able to see their doctor half a world away.

Dr. Jerome Murphy is a pediatric neurologist who is semi-retired and spending six months in Portugal this year.

Rather than transfer his patients to other doctors, like he has in past years, he uses telemedicine to connect with his patients in Kansas City.

"It helps when they see me because we've built up a trust between each other," Dr. Murphy said.

Telemedicine allows Dr. Murphy to see and talk with patients through his computer. He can also access certain digital medical files.

"It is alleviating shortages of specialists, like child neurologists, in my case," Dr. Murphy said.

For patients, it's an important tool in maintaining a comfortable relationship with the doctor.

Haley Linden, 19, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby. She has been a patient at Children's Mercy Hospital her entire life.

"I think it's a great way to keep you in touch with physicians you've already established relationships with," said Linden's mother, Cynthia Wheeler.

Linden sees Dr. Murphy for sleep problems she's been experiencing. Because she saw him a year ago for the same issue, Dr. Murphy already has her history and an understanding of the issues.

"Changing is very uncomfortable," Wheeler said. "You're usually here either for regular checkups or surgeries, things that just are not fun. It's nice to have familiar faces."

Registered nurse Tricia Gentzler takes care of the physical portion of every exam. Since the program started in April, she said patients and their families have expressed a lot of satisfaction.

"That continuity of care can't be stressed enough," she said. "This really helps provide that to the families."

According to Children's Mercy Hospital, it has one of the fastest growing telemedicine programs in the region.  More than 500 children have seen a doctor this way.  Based on surveys, 90 percent of families say they are happy with it.

"I actually like the idea," said Wheeler. "I think it's a great way to make sure you keep your best on service and staff."

Many other hospitals in the Kansas City area also have telemedicine programs. It's often used to connect patients with specialty doctors, especially patients in rural or underserved areas.

Based on their websites, the University of Kansas Medical Center, Research Medical Center and Saint Luke's Health Systems all offer telemedicine in certain medical fields.

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