Linking Patients to Docs at a Distance

    The UCSD School of Medicine recently received a $1-million grant to support the formation of an on-campus telemedicine learning center. Telemedicine, the diagnosis and treatment of patients in remote areas using real-time video conferencing or satellite technology, has become an increasingly prevalent medical practice.

    The California Telemedicine and eHealth Center, which awarded the grant and also funded the development of a learning center at UC Davis in 1999, has ‘focused its strategic efforts for the next five years on building telemedicine and e-health competency among providers and É improving access to quality care,’ according to its Web site.

    The main purpose of the new Southern California Telemedicine Learning Center will be to train UCSD-based doctors to use telemedicine technology that will bolster communication with physicians in rural communities. The leadership of the center will be shared by two co-directors: Maria Savoia, vice dean of medical education and professor of medicine at UCSD, and Lawrence Friedman, professor and director of ambulatory care at UCSD Medical Center.

    ‘The CTEC grant is really to teach people how to do telemedicine,’ Savoia said. ‘It’s a grant for education; it’s not really about the delivery of health care. But we know that once we do the education, what we want to do is deliver the health care. I think it’s going to benefit a lot of patients with chronic illnesses and a lot of patients who don’t have access to tertiary or specialized care in the communities where they live.’

    As part of the program’s community outreach facet, the TLC has already partnered with three Southern California organizations: the Council of Community Clinics, the Imperial County School District and UCSD’s Physician Assessment and Clinical Education program.

    One of the center’s biggest partners is the CCC, which is composed of 17 clinic and health care organizations, with over 75 locations throughout the San Diego and Imperial counties. The TLC will work with the council to fulfill the telemedicine education and training needs that are necessary to form a working program. UCSD has already implemented several telemedicine projects that benefit community clinics, such as the S.T.R.o.k.E.-D.O.C. program, which allows UCSD stroke specialists to provide consultation over long distances using interactive audiovisual technology.

    The TLC’s partnership with the Imperial County School District will allow schools with few health resources relatively easy access to UCSD physicians and specialists, who are also able to assist and consult with students who have disabilities or chronic conditions.

    The TLC will also provide training to doctors enrolled in P.A.C.E. – a program designed to assess and remediate problems in medical practice.

    ‘We’re going to try to bring some education to some of the physicians who have been through the P.A.C.E. program to connect them so when they have questions they have people to ask,’ Savoia said.

    The TLC is currently in the process of being set up in the old student services buildings, and Savoia estimates that the center will begin training doctors in January 2008.

    ‘Through the Telemedicine Learning Center, we will be able to bring innovations in telemedicine into medically underserved urban and rural communities, with the goal of improving health care for vulnerable patient populations,’ said David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, in a press release.

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