How’s your heart? February has been officially designated American Heart Month since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the first presidential proclamation to increase awareness of the nation’s No. 1 killer, cardiovascular disease.

While cardiovascular disease has not lost this top ranking since then, much has changed in how heart disease is detected and treated. Some of the biggest advances in the past few years have come with the expansion of telemedicine – the use of technology to deliver both healthcare and medical information – thanks to the increasingly fast and reliable broadband provided by cable companies.

And as “giga” broadband speeds become standard, cable will pave the way for medical facilities and practitioners to treat even more patients through interactive video and other technologies, while saving time and money through services such as patient record data storage and transport.

Already telemedicine is allowing even some of the most specialized care – such as cardiovascular services – to be delivered to patients no matter where they are located.

That’s particularly important in a state as vast as Texas, where rural hospitals provide care to 15 percent of the population but cover 85 percent of the state’s geography. Shortages of specialists are especially acute, with roughly 40 specialists per 100,000 residents, compared with 134 per 100,000 in urban areas.

Cable and telemedicine helps overcome these geographic barriers to care.

When it comes to the heart, for example, UT Southwestern Medical Center participates in the Telestroke program, which extends immediate access to its nationally recognized stroke care during the crucial time period when treatment is needed. Partner hospitals – most of which are outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area – can now consult in real time with physicians from UT Southwestern’s Robert D. Rogers Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center. UT Southwestern physicians use iPads to provide 24/7, one-on-one audiovisual consultations to the medical staff and stroke patients in the emergency rooms at partner hospitals. Patients’ MRI and CT imaging results are securely shared via specialized cloud technology, and if necessary, patients can be transferred to the nearest Primary Stroke Center, where they have access to high-level, comprehensive medical care for strokes.

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • Doctors treating the smallest babies at Mother France Hospital in Tyler can consult with doctors at Dallas Children’s Hospital, allowing some children and their parents to stay home yet still get the specialized care they need. More.
  • In West Texas, a telemedicine program in conjunction with Texas Tech University has reduced waiting times and provide more psychiatric services to patients in rural areas. More.
  • Urban areas also benefit from telemedicine – Christus Foundation for Healthcare in Houston operates a telemedicine program at school-based clinics to improve students’ access to care. School-based medical assistants use laptops to connect with nurse practitioners and other providers to conduct virtual examinations, diagnose ailments and establish treatment plans. More.