Georgia health officials to see HIV patients via video conferencing

Georgia public health officials in Atlanta have confirmed they will begin seeing HIV patients across the state through video conferencing as soon as April, hoping the technology will help them halt the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.

Part of the aim is to use the state’s existing video conferencing equipment to aid patients who live in remote parts of the state and who cannot afford to travel to Atlanta. The program could also stop the spread of misinformation and the stigma surrounding the illness, said Dr. Gregory Felzien of the state Public Health Department.

“It helps prevent that person from dropping out of care,” he said. “It continues and promotes one of the most important things for diminishing stigma and discrimination: conversation — at all levels.”

Patients will be able to go to a local public health clinic near them and communicate with Felzien in Atlanta through a two-way video connection. State health officials are already using the technology to help people with other ailments across Georgia. A similar program for HIV patients has been operating in Southeast Georgia for years, Felzien said.

The state has set a goal of getting all of Georgia’s 159 health departments to participate in the HIV video conferencing program within a year, said Suleima Salgado, director of telehealth and telemedicine for the state health department. A fraction of those health departments have “telemedicine carts,” which include instruments — such as stethoscopes — that transmit vital signs electronically.

HIV may have faded from the public conscience in recent years, but it is still raging across the South. In 2013, Georgia ranked second among the 50 states in its rate of new HIV diagnoses at 36.7 with an estimated 3,011 new cases, behind Maryland, which had a 43.7 rate. New HIV cases were documented in at least 43 Georgia counties in 2013. The year before, there were 39,102 Georgians living with HIV or AIDS. Also in 2012, 613 Georgians died from HIV/AIDS.

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