By Shaun Boyd

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – From Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Sen. Cory Gardner is beamed into an emergency room in his hometown of Yuma 150 miles away, a town with 3,500 people and less than five primary care doctors.

Sen. Cory Gardner participates in a telehealth call. (credit: CBS)

“I was delivered by the doctor who delivered my mom,” said Gardner.

He’s leading an effort to bridge the rural-urban health care divide. He’s sponsored legislation that would expand virtual health care like the telestroke program at Swedish. It allows neurologists to assess patients miles away and prescribe lifesaving drugs before brain damage occurs.

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“All that decision making is done within 15-30 minutes of when the patient comes to the emergency room,” said Neurologist Ira Chang. “Before we would have to get paged, we would have to call on phone, not be able see for ourselves what was going on with the patient. Geographically we would have to drive all over the place. I think it’s really brought specialty health care to areas and to people that would not have gotten it at all.”

But Gardner says far too many communities still don’t have access to telemedicine because they don’t have broadband.

He’s lobbied the Federal Communications Commission for more funding.

(credit: CBS)

“If you’re able to reduce costs, if you’re able to save lives in the process and have better health care outcomes avoiding the over-utilization of the emergency room, telemedicine, telehealth really is something we’re just starting to see the front end of the miracle it will be,” he said.

And not just in a hospital setting. At Gardner’s urging, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced the agency is launching a $100 million pilot program to support connected care at homes and workplaces.

(credit: CBS)

“So now when you leave a health care facility, you can take with you… an app on your smart phone or tablet that can stay with you and provide high quality care all the way,” Carr told CBS4’s Shaun Boyd.

The pilot program will focus on expanding connected care for low-income residents and veterans in rural communities. Carr says the FCC will measure the costs and benefits over a two to three year period.

“Very rarely do we see that physician who’s going to stay in that one community being the only doctor 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 40 years,” said Gardner. “We have to adjust to that and that’s where telemedicine, telehealth can provide us the breakthroughs we’re looking for in rural health care.”

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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