Thanks to a new UC Davis program, 10-year-old Ian Killmer’s doctor was able to perform a life-saving procedure on him under the instruction of pediatric trauma specialists 100 miles away via teleconference.
After passing out at home, Ian arrived at a rural hospital in Willitis, Calif. unresponsive. Dr. Ace Barash of the Willits hospital needed help from UC Davis specialists Drs. Kourosh Parsapour and James Marcin, two of the best pediatric intensive care specialists in California, 107 miles away.
Using UC Davis’ telehealth program, a network of videoconferencing connecting underserved hospitals with major medical centers, the UC Davis specialists were able to guide Dr. Barash through a procedure that he had not performed in 20 years. The doctors were able to see each other through the telemedicine screen and perform the procedure correctly to save Ian’s life.
“Our telemedicine program pioneered videoconferencing technology for use in medicine and we have conducted more than 20,000 video-based consultations at more than 100 clinics and hospital sites throughout the state and beyond since the 1990,” said Javeed Siddiqui, an associate medical director for the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology.
Telemedicine allows patients who live in remote areas to connect to some of the best medical specialists throughout California without risking the health of the patient by transporting them. Specialists are able to guide doctors in underserved areas through a portable terminal screen to diagnose, treat and provide the medical care that the patients need.
Telehealth can save patients in remote rural areas time and money because instead of taking a long trip to see a specialist, they can travel to a nearby hospital that offers the telehealth program.
“One of the benefits of telehealth (or telemedicine) is that it can potentially reduce the cost of care,” said Jana Katz-Bell, a senior administrator for the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology.
Smaller hospitals will also be able to save money by using the telehealth program when specialist care is needed, instead of hiring more costly on-site expertise that is only needed on an infrequent basis.
UC Davis is a state and national leader in telehealth, Siddiqui said.
The program started as a fetal monitoring project, in which expectant mothers from a small rural hospital in Colusa County were connected to the Medical Center and its specialists via teleconference. The mothers were able to remain in their hometown while still receiving the best medical expertise.
“UC Davis Health System now offers 40 medical specialties via telemedicine, which range from dermatology and infectious disease to psychiatry and pediatric critical care,” Siddiqui said.
“In addition, we are a leader in training and education related to telehealth,” he said. “The UC Davis telemedicine program continues to expand each year.”
As the program expands, millions of dollars from new federal and state funds are becoming available to support the development of telehealth throughout the state.
Voters passed Proposition 1D in 2006, which led to funding being distributed towards expanding medical education within California.
“$200 million of the overall $10.4 billion 1D bond measure specifically supports University of California’s medical schools and is helping to enhance its telemedicine programs throughout the state,” Katz-Bell said.
$10 million from Prop. 1D is already predetermined to be used to purchase more telehealth equipments that will be made available to areas where socioeconomic barriers present challenges to health-care access.
This funding also provides state of the art facilities and equipment to promote an increase in medical school enrollment in the UCs.
“UC Davis School of Medicine already has been able to expand its class size by just over 10 percent,” Katz-Bell said.
The Federal Communications Commision (FCC) invested a total of more than $30 million to identify and eventually connect hundreds of primarily rural California health-care facilities to a statewide and nationwide broadband telehealth network, Katz-Bell said.
The California Center for Connected Health (CCCH), the Sacramento-based organization that was created to coordinate telehealth throughout California, will connect stakeholders to set the strategy for a sustainable telehealth model in California.
“Working together, we can realize telehealth’s potential to improve access and quality for underserved populations,” said Sandra Shewry, president and CEO of the organization.
In addition to providing underserved areas with increased access to medical care, programs like telemedicine also benefit newly graduated UC students by providing more job opportunities in California’s future, Siddiqui said.
“Telecommunications experts, policymakers and health-care professionals will all be involved with this expanding field,” he said. “The need is great to increase access to specialty care throughout the state in an effective and efficient manner.”
MINH PHAM can be reached at email@example.com.