Partners HealthCare has long been a leader in using technology to provide specialized care to patients who need it fast. Globe reporter Liz Kowalczyk wrote in 2006 about the "telestroke" program, which uses video conferencing to connect neurologists at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals to patients in community hospitals miles and sometimes states away.
The technology has allowed for quick decision-making to determine if a patient should be treated with a drug that can dissolve clots in the brain, one that can be life-saving for someone suffering a stroke but deadly if given to the wrong patient. With a new service provider, Partners is hoping to expand the program -- to patients' living rooms and doctors' pockets.
The hospital system has been working with Vidyo, based in New Jersey, to create a new, more mobile network that allows doctors to connect from the exam room, a computer at home, or a mobile application on the go, as long as they have a webcam and a basic internet connection. How is this different from a standard online video chat program, like Skype? One big reason: it's secure. That's important in an industry where patient privacy is highly regulated.
During emergency situations, the hospital with the patient will still need specialized cameras to do high-level analysis. But the system could make specialists with mobile devices on the other end accessible at any time of day from anywhere, said Dr. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of neurology at Mass. General.
It also will allow patients to attend follow up visits from their own living rooms.
Patients now come to the hospital for such visits "because that's how we get paid," Schwamm said, but there's little that can't be done remotely. A patient who lives far from the hospital might have someone at a nearby clinic check their blood pressure and listen to their arteries. That information could be shared with a specialist at Mass. General who, by video, checks a patient's appearance and asks them to perform simple balance tasks.
As for the payment, a patient might pay out of pocket for such a visit -- say, $50 instead of a $20 copay, Schwamm said. For some, though, the added cost could be offset by not paying for gas, parking and time off from work needed to get to the exam room.
Schwamm said he hopes to begin offering remote patient visits to those who are open to them (not everyone will be, he said) within six months.
Representative from Partners and Vidyo declined to say how much the hospital has paid for the new system. Schwamm said, the contract is a reflection of the fact that video conferencing will soon be as regular a part of medicine as a basic phone line is today. Afterall, he said, nearly every new doctor has a phone with video technology in their pocket.
ďItís just part of Batmanís tool belt. It now has a smart phone on it," he said.
About white coat notes
|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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