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IU Health opens telemedicine outreach clinic in Gary
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IU Health opens telemedicine outreach clinic in Gary

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GARY | The twice-a-week trips to Indianapolis for Michigan City residents Barbara Bonner and her son, David Michael "Mick" Bonner, were getting rough.

"That's a long haul," she said. "When they told me I could drive to Gary, I said 'Hallelujah.'"

Northwest Indiana kidney transplant patients like Mick Bonner can save some gas money with a new telemedicine clinic in Gary.

The morning of the third Friday of each month, the Indiana University Northwest Campus Health and Wellness Center hosts a kidney transplant telemedicine outreach clinic, making it the seventh clinic for Indiana University Health Transplant.

The clinic allows a patient in Gary to have a routine, post-surgery follow-up appointment with a doctor in Indianapolis, using video chatting equipment.

"It really is about the same (as seeing them in person)," said Dr. Tim Taber, transplant nephrologist and medical director for the IU Health kidney transplant program. "They tell us what is wrong, or how they're doing. A lot of the visit is education."

Gail Zacok, the family nurse practitioner who runs the clinic, acts as the liaison between the patient and doctor, being the "touching hands" of the appointment. She listens to the heart and lungs, checks for swollen ankles and operates the equipment.

On Aug. 19, she ran the first clinic for two patients.

"I didn't know what to expect, but it went really very well," she said. "Each patient had a family member who was there, and they could ask questions."

Taber said the first telemedicine clinic for kidneys was established in Evansville about a year and a half ago after patients said they were frustrated with driving a few hours for a 15- to 20-minute appointment. Another clinic in Merrillville was established, primarily for pre-transplant appointments shortly after.

The video chatting uses two cameras, one with a wide-angle lens and one that can "look at the pores on your nose," Taber said. That camera can be used to examine a transplant patient's scar, for example.

Zacok said IUN is hosting the clinic as a community service, and believes the campus would be open to more, similar types of telemedicine in the future.

Taber said he doesn't think the clinic replaces anything, it just extends the reach to patients.

"I'd rather go to Gary anytime," said Barbara Bonner. "It's 28 minutes versus six hours."

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