This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.
Digital health pioneers in California and Missouri are investing millions of dollars in new technologies to enable doctors, nurses and other health care workers help patients in remote areas as a new law lays the groundwork for telehealth adoption.
In Missouri, the Mercy hospital system says it will build the nation’s first “virtual care center,” a $90 million communications hub staffed by hundreds of doctors and nurses linked electronically to Mercy hospitals, clinics and patient homes by telemedicine technologies. The hospital system will invest an additional $590 million in technology to get the virtual care center up and running.
Mercy has big plans for the center, including the organization of around-the-clock remote radiology and diagnostics teams to improve the availability of health specialists to its 30 hospitals and more than 200 outpatient facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. A team of specialty physicians on standby to support primary care doctors in rural areas is also planned.
In addition to human resources, Mercy plans to use the center to provide infrastructure for integrating data patients collect at home on their weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, EKGs and more, into electronic medical records to support remote disease management.
Separately, Gary and Mary West, co-founders of the San Diego-based West Wireless Health Institute announced the formation of a $100 million investment fund to spur the development and adoption of health care innovations focused on making health care more affordable.
“We see a void in investment funding focused specifically on lowering the cost of health care. We are launching the West Health Investment Fund to help close that gap and to provide resources to companies who we believe are going to help drive down the cost of health care for the benefit of individuals and society in general,” says Gary West.
The fund’s initial portfolio includes Healthsense, an in-home monitoring sensor company, and Sotera Wireless, which makes vital signs monitoring equipment. The fund also has investments in Biological Dynamics, Change Health care, goBalto, and Humedica.
Although investment is flowing to telehealth companies in California and beyond, telehealth has yet to achieve legal parity with other modes of health care delivery in many states. In an effort to clear that barrier to telehealth’s growth in California, state Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Telehealth Advancement Act of 2011 this month. The new law makes it easier for covered telehealth services to be reimbursed by health plans and for California hospitals to establish medical credentials for telehealth providers.
The new rules will help patients in rural California get better access to medical experts, say backers of the legislation.
But it’s not just about rural patients, says Steve Barrow, executive director of the California State Rural Health Association.
“Forcing people to wait for specialty care or making them leave home for long trips to get care is not necessary in modern times, with the new emerging technology and communications available today,” he says.
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