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Schwarzenegger launches nation’s largest 'telehealth' system [Updated]

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at the UC Davis Cancer Center on Tuesday to announce the launch of the country's largest "telehealth" system, which organizers say will one day connect patients to hundreds of hospitals and clinics statewide using broadband technology.

"What we are launching today is a new era for healthcare," Schwarzenegger said. "Through a simple broadband link, this state-of-the-art system will save lives by instantly connecting people from across the state, including under-served and rural areas, with the best and brightest doctors. The California Telehealth Network marks the beginning of a new digital highway that will fundamentally change the future of how healthcare is provided."

The network, a broadband stream separate from mainstream Internet broadband, will be dedicated solely to healthcare information. The network's first two remote sites were launched Tuesday at Oroville Hospital north of Sacramento and CommuniCare Health Center in West Sacramento. During the next month, organizers plan to add another 50 sites. Those partners include rural but also urban groups such as the Health Information Technology Extension Center for Los Angeles.

"What this is really about is to use broadband technology to improve clinical outcomes and reduce costs," said Eric Brown, the project's executive director. "The mission of the program is to increase access for rural clinics all over the state and also in urban areas where there is not proximity to quality care."

[Updated at 10:20 a.m.: Among the first to connect to the network will be the five UC medical centers and local healthcare providers, including Providence Tarzana Medical Center and St. John's Well Child and Family Center clinics in South Los Angeles, Brown said.

Brown said 60% of the networks' expected 850 providers will be rural, but the network will help urban patients reduce or eliminate the wait to see specialists.

"At a lot of these urban clinics, if you need to see a specialist you could wait 12 to 18 months," Brown said. "If you have a child with special needs, as a parent, that's a long time to wait."]


Network officials demonstrated for the governor, Chopra and UC Senior Vice President John Stobo how the network connected UC Davis with Oroville Hospital to the north, UC Irvine Medical Center to the south and CommuniCare Health Center to the west. They introduced the group via computer monitors to Darla Carias in Oroville, whose 4-year-old son was treated in May by a UC Irvine pediatric psychiatrist using a separate UCI telehealth system.

[Corrected at 2:31 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that Carias has been driving 500 miles to have her son treated at UC Irvine.]

On Tuesday, Carias spoke with Fernandez for the first time via the network, which will enable her son to be treated remotely.

"There is great need for more accessible acute and specialty care in medically under-served areas across California," Chopra said, adding that the new project "will help improve access to quality healthcare in rural and medically under-served areas over a secure, managed network enabling the delivery of emerging eHealth and telemedicine services."

The network was launched with $30 million in public and private funds, including $22.1 million from the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care Pilot Program, a $3.6-million matching grant from the California Emerging Technology Fund, and funds from the California HealthCare Foundation, UnitedHealthcare, the National Coalition for Healthcare Integration and the University of California.

Schwarzenegger created the state's Broadband Taskforce in 2006 to map broadband availability and speed across the state, and the group recommended creating a statewide eHealth network. Proposition 1D, which passed that same year, provided $200 million to expand the telemedicine network throughout the state, build a telehealth training facility at UC Davis, and purchase telehealth equipment at other UC and community sites that will eventually connect to the network.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Comments () | Archives (13)

I read this article and still don't understand what the new system does! What does "connect patients to hundreds of hospitals and clinics" mean? What will they be able to do? Give some examples.

12-18 month wait for specialists? Yep...definitely the best health care system on the planet.

Nice. Now can we have a state budget, please?

Great. Now if we could only pay our doctor bills.

Serving the under-served is fine. Just this time, please include those of us who are 99ers!

Well, to answer your question Ed, this new system has lots of implications for healthcare. Basically, telehealth is a means of delivering healthcare remotely. Examples of telehealth could be something as simple as two physicians consulting with each other over the phone or e-mail, or something as advanced as cardiac surgery where the physician is overseas, in Germany, for example, and the patient is in California. The patient would be under general anesthesia and would have laproscopic instruments inserted and positioned into the site by the operating room nurses; the only difference would be that the surgeon is thousands of miles away, operating on the patient via live video feed from the laproscopic camera and manipulating the instruments using a console.

At the hospital I work at, we occasionally use robot-assisted surgery for heart patients who have minimal cardiac problems, such as with a coronary artery bypass that only involves one or two arteries. The system we use is called the Da Vinci System. Normally, the surgeon is just a couple of feet away from the patient when he is operating on the patient via the Da Vinci System. Although the system isn't marketed for telehealth/telesurgery use per se, it can theoretically be used in the aforementioned scenario over long distances. It will only be a matter of time.

This is useful for hospitals who don't have access to specialists such as cardiothoracic surgeons due to cost or reputation.

Another scenario that this new telehealth system would be used for could include healthcare providers sending medical records or medical images, such as x-rays or MRIs via the network to specialists many miles away for consultations or to get a second opinion without having to have the patient drive his/herself to the actual specialist, theoretically saving time and money.

Thanks Matt.

Although I understood the basics of what the system will provide and it's potential, the article was vague on specifics, and people need to know - especially those in doubt.

Kind of you to take the time.

"The network, a broadband stream separate from mainstream Internet broadband, will be dedicated solely to healthcare information."

As a network guy, I take from this statement that this network will also have the safety of being logically and physically separated from the rest of the Internet; its own independent Wide Area Network. Basically means that the Medical sites get exclusive access to the network that won't be crossed with the likes of Google and your typical hacker.

This is great. Concept is to be able to have smart pumps, heart devices and smart patient monitoring devicing watching over patients. This still requires data being transmitted to be coded so to protect patient's information. These really smart devices can be used to monitor people convicted of DUI to monitor the blood. The data can be coded such that the data can be used in research. Let us hope these jobs created are open to us old folks. The VA is working on similar systems. Devices which will provide medication to the patients. Being able to monitor and issue medication in entire wing. Being able to call into 911 with the proper medical device and get medical help. Great story.

Information would be protected by using Role-Based Acces Control (RBAC), doctors would have a security USB smart card with associated user name and pass word. Once the Security USB smart card is removed from the system the data is removed.

Another perk, is the doctor can have your medication electronically transferred to your local drug store. The medical industry pays about $250,000,000,000 per on paper work and anothe $90,000,000,000 per on fail follow ups with patients. The cost saving in five years would more than pay for the initial investment stated in this report.

I am intrigued and excited about the concept of such a broad approach to telemedicine. I applaud Schwarzenegger's support of these measures, and hope to see other leaders follow his example.

However, what this article (and most other media blurbs on this topic) fails to discuss, is the reimbursement question for providers who partake in this type of care. Most insurance carriers are not as eager to embrace telemedicine. At the cost of adoption, implementation, and maintenance, it becomes a tough sell to administrators and care providers regardless of the patientcare benefit.

It is a bit like trying to convince a starving man with only $1 that he should buy caviar rather than a bowl of rice.

Has anybody read the newest info about Improving Employee Satisfaction in Healthcare ? I keep thinking that if the powers that be would understand this, things would be easier all around.


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