From The Editor | September 3, 2010

The Promise Of Telehealth

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By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes

A few weeks ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at the UC Davis Medical Center to launch the nation’s largest telehealth system. This network is designed to connect patients to hundreds of hospitals and clinics throughout the state of California using broadband technology.

The network is a broadband system completely separate from the mainstream Internet broadband and will be solely dedicated to transmitting healthcare information. The network’s first two remote sites were launched August 18 at Orville Hospital north of Sacramento and CommuniCare Health Center in West Sacramento. During the next month, organizers plan to add another 50 sites to the network. Among the first to connect will be the five UC medical centers and local healthcare providers, including Providence Tarzana Medical Center in South Los Angeles. Approximately 60% of the facilities that connect to the network are expected to be rural, providing these under-served areas with access to the best care available. However, the telehealth system will also help urban patients reduce or eliminate the wait times to see specialists or enable them to manage chronic conditions via a virtual connection with their physician.

Telehealth Represents A ‘Foundational Change’ To Healthcare The launch of the dedicated healthcare network in California is a major step toward the adoption of telehealth in the United States — an initiative that many health IT leaders and clinicians is the most vital technology initiative in healthcare (even more significant than EHR adoption). One such thought leader is Dr. Andrew Watson, laparoscopic surgeon for UPMC and medical director of UPMC’s Center For Connected Medicine. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Watson for a podcast for Health IT Outcomes and here’s what he had to say about telehealth/telemedicine:

“I think telemedicine is one of the most powerful things I’ve seen come down the pike in healthcare in some time. I think it will have an even more profound impact on the industry than EHRs. Telemedicine is a fundamental foundational change in the practice of medicine. It is the first time in the history of the industry that it is acceptable to separate the patient and the provider. And, once that separation is made, the patients can be at home, they can be on vacation, or they can be on the road. You essentially virtualize healthcare systems, which means that geographic boundaries melt away. You can provide better care at remote sites, faster care, and also cost effective care.”

I encourage you to listen to my entire podcast with Dr. Watson titled The Power Of Connected Medicine, featured in this edition of our email newsletter. You can also download the transcript. His sentiments on telemedicine illustrate the technology’s transformational capabilities and its value to the industry. Sentiments that, the State Of California at least, has taken to heart.

Ken Congdon is Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes. He can be reached at