Innovation Hero Finalist: Orthopedic Hand Trauma Telemedicine

Innovation Hero Finalist: Orthopedic Hand Trauma Telemedicine
From left: Dr. Thomas Frazier, Dr. Sean Morrell, Dr. John Bracey, Dr. Theresa Wyrick-Glover and Dr. Mark Tait of the Hand Trauma Telemedicine Program at UAMS.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) ushered in a new era of care when the hospital opened the first hand trauma telemedicine program in the nation in 2014.

In conjunction with the Arkansas Trauma Communications Center and the Arkansas Department of Health, UAMS established the Arkansas Hand Trauma Telemedicine Program (AHTTP). With the AHTTP, patients and their physicians in 72 hospitals throughout Arkansas have virtual 24/7 access to UAMS’ team of orthopedic hand trauma surgeons via a high-definition broadband video connection provided through Arkansas e-Link.

The surgeons use mobile devices to connect to the providers at local hospitals using telemedicine equipment called e-Link carts. When a patient goes to his or her local hospital with a hand injury, the emergency department staff connect to a virtual hand trauma room, where one of the on-call hand surgeons evaluates the patient’s injury and makes recommendations for treatment, resulting in expedited care for emergency cases and increased chance of restoring normal hand/finger functions.

“Timeliness is especially crucial when treating severe hand injuries, especially those requiring reattachment surgery, and the need for rapid, expert-driven care is critical to a successful recovery,” said Dr. Theresa Wyrick-Glover, orthopedic hand surgeon at UAMS. “Yet, Arkansas has a limited supply of hand surgeons in a limited number of cities, leaving patients in parts of the state without access to this type of care. Now, patients with hand injuries can be quickly evaluated by our expert hand surgeons via telemedicine, regardless of our location, allowing for timely and appropriate care.”

The team includes Wyrick-Glover, Dr. Tom Frazier, Dr. Sean Morrell, Dr. John Bracey and Dr. Mark Tait.

Patient success stories highlight the need for this type of program in Arkansas. For Batesville native Bobby Watts, having that telemedicine program made all the difference after a home improvement project went wrong and he sliced his left hand, almost severing two fingers. After arriving at the nearest hospital in Batesville, the team there recognized the need for a hand specialist and they set up the telemedicine equipment.

Through her device, Wyrick-Glover was able to examine Watts’ hand and talk him through her evaluation. He had a significant injury to the back of his hand as well as injuries to the tendons and bones in his fingers requiring immediate surgery. Wyrick-Glover was able to prepare for Watts’ transfer to UAMS, so when he arrived, everyone was ready to go to save the hand.

The hand trauma program has helped people who didn’t have access to this type of specialty care. Now they can get expedited treatment so the hand trauma team can care for them and give them the best possible outcomes, as when Watts was able to keep his fingers and hand.

In 2017, there were 650 hand trauma cases but 56% of those cases did not need to transfer. Before the AHTTP program, these patients would have been transferred, many of them from out of state.