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Hospital CEO aided by telemedicine system

The meeting was routine, at least for the CEO of Pagosa Springs Medical Center, Brad Cochennet. It was the Colorado Hospitals Association annual meeting, held in Vail.

It was Thursday night and, again, nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Then, Cochennet noticed he wasn’t seeing properly.

“I thought it was the altitude,” Cochennet said. He assumed he needed more time to adjust to the higher altitude. However, he soon started experiencing other discomforts. He called 911 and was taken to Vail Medical Center.

His hunch was right; he was having a stroke.

However, this is only the beginning of the unusual events that happened to Cochennet last Thursday evening.

To understand the irony that followed Cochennet’s admittance into the Vail Medical Center, some background information is required.

Several years ago, PSMC officials heard about a new technology called “telemedicine.” Essentially, Cochennet explained, the technology makes it possible for a person in a smaller healthcare facility to be evaluated via camera and Internet connection by a specialist at a larger healthcare facility.

Three weeks ago, this technology was presented to Cochennet and staff at PSMC. Dr. Chris Fanale, a neurologist at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, showed what the telemedicine technology could do for a smaller, more rural medical facility.

“The main thing telemedicine does is enable a specialist to evaluate the patient remotely,” Cochennet says.

After Cochennet was admitted to the Vail Medical Center last Thursday night, the hospital staff decided to bring in some help to best evaluate Cochennet’s condition.

“I had the same doctor evaluate me who gave the presentation for the telemedicine system,” Cochennet says. That doctor — Dr. Chris Fanale.

Cochennet admits to the irony of his experience. “It was the same system, and I was the patient, and benefitted from it,” he said.

When asked if his experience gives any new thoughts on a telemedicine system in Pagosa Springs, Cochennet replied, “I can certainly attest that it works.”

And for him, in Vail, it did. After being remotely evaluated by Fanale, it was decided that Cochennet should be sent to Swedish Medical Center where he spent a few days in the intensive care unit for further care and observation.

With the use of the telemedicine system for evaluation, Cochennet said, as a patient, he felt a higher level of comfort. Not because he knew the person on the other side of the camera, but because he was receiving care as quickly as possible from a doctor at a high-quality stroke center.

Will this experience increase Pagosa’s likelihood of purchasing and implementing a telemedicine system?

Cochennet did not know.

“It’s still where it was,” Cochennet said. “It is a good idea, but can we afford to do it this way? Or is there a better system for Pagosa?”

Cochennet is back in Pagosa Springs and is recovering.

“I’m pretty much there,” he said. With rest and taking it easy, he hopes to soon reach a full recovery.

Cochennet encourages people to familiarize themselves with the symptoms of a stroke and, if experiencing any of these symptoms, to not hesitate to call 911. “Time is of the essence,” Cochennet said.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, the symptoms of a stroke include: severe headache, vision impairment, paralysis or numbness of one side of the body, slurring and/or confusion of speech and trouble walking.

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