BENNINGTON - "The doctor will see you now" has a whole new meaning in Bennington. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) is now offering a high-tech telemedicine program that allows patients to be seen by Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) specialists without having to drive two hours to Lebanon, N.H.

Thanks to a partnership with the D-H Center for Telehealth, several SVMC rheumatology patients are now receiving care via telemedicine, using real-time video for their medical appointments. During the inaugural round of virtual appointments in late June, D-H rheumatologist Daniel Albert, MD, had video consults with more than a dozen SVMC patients.

For patients whose conditions are more complex, Albert makes twice-monthly visits to SVMC to see patients in person.

"I think this hybrid model of me going to Bennington intermittently and doing telemedicine intermittently is absolutely the right model," says Albert.

As they do for any medical appointment, patients arrive at SVMC and are shown to an examination room. Using a special medical cart equipped with a camera and a video screen, a SVMC staff member then connects the patient to Albert at D-H in Lebanon. He examines patients with the assistance of a nurse, who uses high-tech diagnostic devices to scan certain areas on the patient. Albert is then able to review the video images live on his computer.

The partnership with Albert and the D-H Center for Telehealth arose, in part, because of the retirement of Dr. Brian Cunningham earlier in 2014 and the difficulty in recruiting a rheumatologist to a rural area, says Dr. Trey Dobson, SVMC's chief medical officer.

"We have a significant population needing these services," says Dobson, "and our goal is to provide patients access to Dartmouth-Hitchcock experts here locally. Telemedicine and our close relationship with the D-H Center for Telehealth enable us to do that. Now patients who were faced with traveling out-of-state for care can stay local and receive the high-level of care they've always gotten at SVMC."