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ABAC Nursing Program Forges Ahead with New Telehealth Technology

August 10, 2015

 When alumni gather in 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nursing program at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Troy Spicer looks forward to hearing their stories of days gone by.  Since his mother was a 1972 ABAC nursing graduate, and he’s a 1982 ABAC nursing graduate, Spicer, the Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, can certainly relate to their precious memories.

But at some point during the reunion, Spicer will ask the alumni to buckle their seat belts because he’s going to take them on a scintillating journey that shows how ABAC nursing students of today are embracing the future through Telehealth.

“Telehealth is the delivery of health-related services using telecommunications and related technologies in the support of patient care, health education, and administrative activities,” Spicer said.  “It’s a technology that’s really changing the way we think about connecting to our health care and promises enhanced access to vital healthcare services, particularly in rural Georgia.”

From Telehealth to tablets, ABAC nursing students are incorporating the latest technology into their preparations for Registered Nurse licensure.  Spicer said ABAC is the frontrunner in offering nursing students certification in the use of Telehealth technology.

“It’s clear to me that we’re on to something really big with Telehealth at ABAC,” Spicer said.  “ABAC is the first nursing program in the state to provide tablets and electronically integrate learning resources for a more realistic and up to date student learning experience.”

Through Telehealth, patients can be examined and treated with the help of an attending nurse by a physician located miles away using high resolution video cameras, camera probes and other high-tech gadgets such as a Bluetooth enabled stethoscopes.

“We’re also beginning to incorporate Telehealth in the ABAC Health Center for referrals to specialists and follow up for students who see their own specialists in their home communities,” Spicer said.

Tift Regional Medical Center employs many ABAC nursing graduates and is partnering with the program to provide the Telehealth equipment.

“Tift Regional continues to invest in the quality of our nursing graduates,” Spicer said.  “We depend on them in a lot of different areas. Our nursing program is certifying students in this new technology so when they enter the work force, they will have a distinct advantage in a work environment that is becoming more and more technology driven.”

Spicer says Telehealth even has international implications. He has made frequent visits to Nicaragua with ABAC nursing students and rural studies students to demonstrate the new technology. In fact, he and Dr. Jerry Baker, Dean of the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, were in that country last summer to demonstrate Telehealth procedures in a rural community.

Spicer and Baker presented the equipment to a local physician in Nicaragua and taught him how to connect and operate the system. The demonstration including a time for connecting to ABAC health professionals and role playing.  The two ABAC deans also made a presentation to the administration and faculty at the national university at Matagalpa.

“I think this visit opened up some opportunities for future collaboration,” Baker said.

Spicer and Baker have also been invited to present a paper at the next World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.  The meeting was scheduled for Atlanta in November but has been postponed.  The University System of Georgia Board of Regents recognized Spicer and Baker at its November meeting in Atlanta.

Baker is excited about the opportunity to present the paper which is titled “The Human Right to the Benefits of Science: Bringing Telehealth to a Rural Community in Nicaragua” at the global event, which serves as the annual meeting for Nobel Peace Prize winners and usually attracts over 2,000 leaders, activists, and celebrities from across the globe.

“It is a distinct honor to be selected to present our project to the highly acclaimed audience,” said Baker.  “However, it is really more exciting to me to share such a wonderful example of how the benefits of science and technology can contribute to better healthcare for the citizens of Nicaragua. Access to the benefits of science is a human right, and we are learning how to deliver those benefits more effectively and efficiently.”

Spicer said when the conference does take place, the paper will be presented with Jon Thompson, who manages the Nicaragua Community Health Connection, an initiative facilitated by Emory University’s Social Enterprise @ Goizueta and Comunidad Connect, a community organization in Nicaragua.

“This effort brings credit and recognition to all of our partners in the endeavor: Tift Regional Medical Center, Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, the Nicaragua Community Health Connection, and the University of Nicaragua in Matagalpa,” Spicer said.  “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was delighted that our paper was accepted.”

The Telehealth proposal involves five entities which include two academic institutions, a regional healthcare provider in the U.S., a non-profit Telehealth provider, and a non-governmental organization working in a rural community in Nicaragua.  Together they will bring the benefits of science and technology to an isolated community as a demonstration of science as a human right.

Just as it does in the U.S., Telehealth brings cost-effective health technology to rural and underserved areas that are in need of medical services. In Nicaragua, the benefits will be most helpful to pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

“The poverty is profound,” Baker said.  “Dirt floors, rampant preventable infectious disease, unclean water, and poor nutrition are among the challenges the people face.”

Spicer said the proposal is also reproducible, meaning the same plan could be used for other remote areas across the world in need of better healthcare.

Back at home, Spicer sees Telehealth as a help-mate for nurses in small towns who can recruit the services of a physician who lives in a metropolitan area.  Because of the intensive education they received at ABAC, nursing graduates will be ready to present detailed information so the doctor can make a diagnosis.

One reason for that will be their familiarity with tablets to both access information and provide information. Each nursing student at ABAC is provided a tablet upon enrolling in the program.

“No more giant book bags with heavy textbooks,” Spicer said.  “These tablets contain all of their textbooks, allow access to specialized nursing and health care apps, and provide access to a web-based simulated patient records platform.”

Spicer said as long as the students can get a Wi Fi connection, they can access learning resources on campus, in the classrooms, at home and in the hospitals where they spend many hours in clinical experiences.

“This year, all of our rural studies and nursing students will participate in ‘virtual’ study abroad experiences thanks to this technology and the help of our partners,” Spicer said.

The nursing program at ABAC prepares registered nurses through two educational tracks.  The Generic Track has a traditional design, and the One Year Registered Nurse track is an accelerated bridge program.  Students earn an associate degree in nursing and qualify for the NCLEX-RN in both programs. Currently, there is no waiting list for qualified students to be admitted.

The application deadline is Feb. 15, 2016 for the 2016 summer term of the One Year R.N. Nursing Program, May 15, 2016 for the 2016 fall term Generic Track Nursing Program, and Aug. 15, 2016 for the 2017 spring term One Year R.N. Nursing Program. The ABAC nursing program is approved by the Georgia Board of Nursing and accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.