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DiNapoli: Schenectady telemedicine program has potential to be state-wide model

NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy
Lucas Willard
NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy

The City of Schenectady is marking success with its telemedicine program. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli visited city fire headquarters on Thursday to learn more about the program that started during the pandemic.

The Schenectady Fire Department rolled out its telemedicine program in the fall of 2020. Using an iPad, emergency responders can connect a patient with a doctor remotely, potentially preventing a trip to the emergency room.

Officials demonstrated the program inside Schenectady Fire Headquarters on Thursday.

Through a partnership with United Concierge Medicine, doctors can diagnose symptoms and prescribe medication over Zoom.

Deputy Fire Chief Dave Massaro…

“These are patients that otherwise would be going to the hospital, taking up space unnecessarily, taking ambulances away from those with heart attacks or stroke or sicknesses that really need that transport.”

In 2021, 128 patients were treated at home through the telemedicine program. So far in 2022, 45 have been treated in place.

Later this year, the city plans to begin a pilot program to provide immunocompromised residents with remote patient temperature monitoring devices. The devices that can log the first signs of a fever are a product of company IDION.

Sam Barend is the company’s CEO.

“Whether it’s COVID, whether coming out of surgeries, this will help detect infection much sooner, to reduce the risk of readmission,” said Barend.

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was invited to learn more about Schenectady’s telemedicine program.

“I’m very impressed with how the city and the fire department here really are working with the local medical providers to come up with a very interesting and effective model,” said DiNapoli.

Officials say more city residents need to be informed about telemedicine. Brochures are being distributed at Ellis Hospital and in other locations throughout Schenectady.

Transportation for non-emergency patients who do need treatment can also be improved, says recently-appointed Fire Chief Donald Mareno.

“An ambulance may cost several hundred dollars. Where a simple thing to get someone to a doctor or to other facilities may be as simple as calling with rideshare. And it may be a $15 ride as opposed to a two, three-hundred dollar ride. But it’s very difficult to get the insurance companies on board. So now we’re talking about maybe doing that on our own, where we would fund that. But you have to come up with a pot of money for that,” said Mareno.

Local officials say while Medicare is more welcoming to telemedicine services, state-regulated Medicaid needs to catch up.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said he hoped Comptroller DiNapoli, a fellow Democrat, can bring input back to Albany.

“That he could help message that in Albany to make sure the money is going to the appropriate providers to make things cost effective and get a better level of care to people,” said McCarthy.

DiNapoli said he believes telemedicine services will provide better outcomes for patients at a lower cost, but acknowledged the key challenge of informing the community about the technology.

“You know, Schenectady seems to be on the cutting edge of using technology in helpful ways to benefit the residents of the city, and I think it has the potential to be a model for communities across New York State,” said DiNapoli.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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