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Dr. Tariq Gheith appears on a computer monitor during an interview held at OSF St. Paul Medical Center in Ottawa. The neurologist is part of a growing trend of tele-medical services available in the Illinois Valley.

When Jeremy Arbuckle of La Salle needed a second opinion on the seizures he was suffering from, he turned to Dr. Tariq Gheith of the OSF Healthcare Illinois Neurological Institute.

“We talked about my medicine changes, my actual diagnosis. He was real thorough and wanted me to ask tons of questions to make sure I had a good understanding of what was going on,” Arbuckle said.

The doctor’s visit was a success, even though the pair was 70 miles apart — brought together through a video monitor beaming the doctor into an exam room at OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa from Geith’s home office in Hickory Hills.

Despite the unusual circumstance of his office visit, Arbuckle left happy. He’d found a new neurologist and saved hours of time on the road — a traditional appointment with Gheith would have required a trip to Rockford.

“It felt like he was right there in the room with you,” Arbuckle said. “It was really great. Normally I’d have to go all the way to Rockford, and it was really convenient only having to go to Ottawa.”

Dr. Gheith has been conducting the tele-epilepsy appointments for the past six months, starting at OSF St. Elizabeth in Ottawa before recently branching out to OSF St. Paul in Mendota. Speaking with the NewsTribune via the same interface patients use in Mendota, he said his entry into tele-medicine has been pretty smooth so far.

“It’s been pretty seamless, better than expected,” Gheith said. “I haven’t heard any negative feedback as of now... Really, what people say is it’s different than they expected — it’s actually more hands-on than they thought it would be.”

Those hands come courtesy of nursing staff that accompanies the patient into the video exam and helps with any tasks that require more than a video presence.

“My nurse is my extension in the room,” Gheith said.

In his case Arbuckle said, the nurse on hand helped him conduct balance, vision and reaction tests.

“The nurse that was in the room with me was really great. He would tell (the nurse) something and she would run through the small tests we had to do in the room,” Arbuckle said.

While the system has been widely appreciated, it’s not perfect, Gheith said.

“I’ve done this on maybe 25 sessions now, and in those 25 sessions, two of them I’ve had a bad connection for a few minutes. That’s the only thing that kind of bothers me, when we have the connection issues. It’s a lot less than I thought it would be, to be honest,” Gheith said.

“Otherwise, I actually feel like I’m in the room. The quality is so clear and I can hear them so clearly, it’s like they’re sitting in front of me.”

Tele-epilepsy appointments like Arbuckle’s aren’t the only digital doctor’s rooms in the area. OSF also has programs for pediatric and psychiatry appointments as well as eICU tele-medicine programs for critical care services.

St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley and Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru also hase tele-psychiatry programs.

“With no psychiatrists in the area to see our patients, it has become a valuable tool for us,” said Jolene Woitynek, director of critical care services at SMH, via email. “For the most part, I think the response has been positive. Providing these consults via tele-medicine has allowed many patients to be evaluated and discharged home for outpatient therapy in a more timely manner.”

As communication technology and connectivity continue to improve, don’t be surprised to see more tele-medicine options for patients in rural areas like the Illinois Valley.

For his part, Arbuckle is happy he met digitally with Dr. Gheith.

“You can see him and he can see you. It feels like you’re talking face to face,” Arbuckle said. “I got a great doctor and I didn’t have to drive to Rockford.”

Chris Yucus can be contacted at (815) 220-6934 or lifestyle@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NT_ChrisYucus.

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Chris Yucus is the NewsTribune Lifestyle Editor. A member of the NewsTribune editorial team since 2011, Chris previously worked as a sports writer and staff photographer for the paper. He can be contacted at lifestyle@newstrib.com.

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