by Paul Cantwell, VP of Federal Sales, LifeSize
There is no doubt that telemedicine is becoming an important part of the government’s approach to healthcare for federal employees, military personnel and the general public.
In January 2010, the Military Health System (MHS) introduced a five-year plan to improve information management and technology. MHS involves all branches of military service, as well as the health plan organization, Tricare. Included in the five-year MHS plan are the two specific goals of Personal Health Agenda and Enterprise Intelligence.
According to plan details, the Personal Health Agenda will provide beneficiaries access to their own medical records and enable virtual visits, among other applications. Enterprise Intelligence will enable sharing of knowledge and transfer of best practices.
Now, over one year later, despite budget freezes and line-level cuts, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) – one of 12 agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services – has created an FY 2012 budget supporting $13 million in contracts related to the meaningful use of health IT, to help develop tools and resources for best practices.
From the perspectives of virtual visits and best practices alike, in my opinion, the future of patient care is automated assessment. In many medical encounters today, the physician may not even lay hands on the patient during an assessment. A physician’s assistant could easily be in a room with the patient, while the doctor conducting the assessment is geographically separated.
This type of examination is more affordable and useable in more places by a broader range of patients.
Telemedicine-based assessment has a rich set of clinical capabilities and vendor neutral interoperability, enabling information sharing from one diagnostic station to the next and among multiple stations.
One recent pilot telemedicine project in the state of Washington included four clinical specialties. The pilot combined a standard diagnostic medical cart with telemedicine-related telecommunications equipment, including a Dell PC, Total Exam camera, otoscope, stethoscope and a hospital grade uninterruptible power supply. The LifeSize Room 220, also included in the cart, offered an embedded 8-way continuous presence multipoint bridge showing four visible sites. (According to industry analysts Frost and Sullivan, LifeSize is a leader in HD video providers serving the healthcare market.)
The mobile assessment system was used for a variety of applications, including telestroke, pediatrics and ultrasound.
Because of plug-and-play capability among the communications devices, diagnostic and teleconferencing tools could easily be connected to a codec and sent by the video provider. Beyond the benefits of virtual physician assessments, this telemedicine system had the benefit of enabling “knowledge diffusion” for best practices in ongoing education and training. The diagnostic process was aided by embedded, process-specific technology, while standardized user interfaces allowed for the portability of skills.
The success of this project has led to an agreement for full deployment through 2011.
It’s encouraging that telemedicine is not being stifled by federal budget cuts. The benefit of telemedicine to the medical community goes beyond immediate patient care – it creates an infrastructure that enables advances in education and training that will be the underpinning of healthcare for the future.
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