Bisbee, Arizona is a quaint town with an historic past. Just a couple of miles from Naco, Sonora, Mexico, it was once the largest city in the western United States—thanks to the Copper Queen underground mine. These days, Bisbee attracts visitors who appreciate its small-town charm, five-star restaurants and historic hotel, the Copper Queen.

A more efficient diagnosis

The Copper Queen Community Hospital (CQCH) is an acute-care, critical access hospital; it does not have any specialists. In 2009, the CQCH made its first foray into clinical telemedicine. That year, it embarked on a telecardiology program with the Carondelet Health Network supplying remote cardiologists from Tucson, 85 miles away.

“Once residents learned that the CQCH could provide access to specialty care, they no longer drove past it on the way to Tucson.”

During the first six months of the telecardiology program, 36 patients with possible heart problems presented at CQCH. In the past, all 36 would have been flown to Tucson Medical Center for care. The remote specialists assessed the patients via telemedicine and determined that only nine needed emergent treatment in Tucson. The other 27 were kept for a short time for observation, treated with medication and perhaps discharged with a heart monitor. Since the cost of an emergency helicopter flight to Tucson and the 2- or 3-day hospital stay could cost $20,000, the telemedicine program saved the health care system more than $500,000.

Saving a public figure

On July 2, 2010, Jack Porter—then-mayor of Bisbee—was discussing the upcoming July 4 celebration with a police officer at his VW repair shop. The officer stopped Porter to say that Porter was slurring his words, something that the mayor had not been aware of. In fact, many people ignore symptoms of stroke until they become apparent to others. The officer suggested that he drive Porter to the CQCH just in case. When they arrived Porter was beginning to limp and was having more difficulty speaking.

As it happened, the CQCH had just joined the Mayo Telestroke Network, a system connected to more than a dozen small hospitals. Using the same mobile telemedicine equipment for the cardiology program, a Mayo teleneurologist was able to determine that Porter was having a stroke and ordered a course of tissue plasminogen activator for him. The drug can break up the clots that cause ischemic strokes.

Porter has since retired, but continues to lead an active, independent life. The quick thinking by the police officer and the CQCH telemedicine program are credited with preventing a more serious outcome.

These successes have caused a shift in the paradigm. Once residents learned that the CQCH could provide access to specialty care, they no longer drove past it on the way to Tucson. As a result, the Copper Queen Community Hospital has seen its reputation and its future improve.