PEORIA — In many states across the United State — and even countries around the world — telehealth has proven itself a good way to provide key health care services to rural and underserved populations, but Illinois is far behind in that race.

“They actually put out grades for states and Illinois has been down in the D, sometimes towards the F, in the grades,” said Suzanne Hinderliter, vice president of telehealth services for OSF HealthCare. “We have not come into the 21st century with this.”

It’s not for lack of technology, but, in part, a problem with legislation. Parity laws need to be passed to guarantee reimbursement for telehealth services, said Hinderliter.

“We have health care insurance companies that will not reimburse for telehealth services. And although we do get reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, it’s fairly limited,” she said. “In order for us to provide the care to the patients when and where we need it, we have to get reimbursed for that or it becomes a problem for us in order to provide that care.”

The topic was part of the conversation OSF HealthCare administrators had with Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti Wednesday afternoon during a tour of Jump Innovation, where scientists have developed technology to make telehealth a good option for patients in rural areas.

Sanguinetti, who is on the newly formed Illinois Medicaid Telemedicine Task Force, said she was impressed with what she saw at Jump.

“I had a lot of questions going in, like how can you do a walking exam if you are so far away from me? How are you able to hear my heart if you are so far away from me?” said Sanguinetti during a news conference following the tour. “They put all of those concerns at ease because they have that sort of technology.”

OSF has carts equipped with telehealth equipment at 10 of its smaller hospitals and in a number of ambulatory clinics, said Hinderliter.

“Each cart contains a special high definition camera that has 20-times zoom that can zoom into a pupil to see any pupillary changes, or if a patient has a dermatological condition, you can zoom into that.”

The equipment is used in the emergency room as well as for specialized care like behavioral health, neurology, and cardiology, she said.

“Pediatrics is another big one since we have Children’s Hospital here. We are able to provide neonatal consults to some of our smaller facilities that have an OB unit,” said Hinderliter. “Sometimes there may be a complication, we are able to then extend our neonatologist to do an assessment on the baby to say if that baby needs to be transferred to Peoria, or can we manage them there.”

Telehealth can also help lower healthcare costs by lowering readmission rates, said Sanguinetti. People who live in rural areas, who may have difficulty getting to doctor’s appointments in larger cities, can now get care in their own communities.

As the chairwoman of the rural affairs task force, Sanguinetti is interested in telemedicine.

“Right now our regulations are dated and we need to bring our regulations into the 21st century,” she said. “A lot of our regulations require face to face contact with our providers. At times in our rural communities that’s virtually impossible.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.