"Here, we're talking about the digital highway, broadband, that is also part of the infrastructure," Schwarzenegger told briefing attendees, including U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and state and local health IT officials. "A lot of people are not aware of that, but there are a thousand people a year dying in California of just someone misreading a prescription or not having the total medical records and so on, so this is inexcusable." With the launch of the California Telehealth Network, he said, "We are changing that, and reducing errors, and saving money at the same time."
The California Telehealth Network will give patients at healthcare clinics in rural and medically underserved areas across the state telecommunications access to specialists at state teaching hospitals. "I think telemedicine is going to be the future of medicine," Schwarzenegger said, adding that telehealth is a facet of healthcare reform in that it helps provide good-quality, affordable care for everyone.
Maria Alino, a pediatrician in solo practice in Oroville, Calif., has been using telemedicine in her practice for 10 years as part of a precursor pilot to the California Telehealth Network with UC Davis. She appeared on a projection screen at the briefing, beamed there from 108-bed Oroville Hospital, located in an agricultural community about 70 miles north of Sacramento.
Alino said in a telephone interview after the conference that she uses the telehealth system at least twice a week, on average, primarily in scheduled consults with pediatric specialists in endocrinology, psychiatry, neurology and weight management, but also on occasion in emergencies. Once, she said, she helped save the life of newborn who had a defective heart by contacting a pediatric cardiologist via the telehealth system.
"The baby came out blue," Alino recalled, but Oroville Hospital was able to transmit via the network an echocardiogram and link to the UC Davis specialist on video in real time.
The specialist's "face was in the television," Alino said. "She was saying do this, do that; it was so nice."
Alino said Oroville was "lucky to be the first one" on the pilot network, and now, "I hope that other physicians will have the benefits that I did."
California Telehealth Network Executive Director Eric Brown said plans call for activating the first 50 sites on the network in the next few months. The goal is to have about 800 sites connected within three years.
The $30 million network was funded by a $22.1 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission, $3.6 million from the California Emerging Technology Fund and $2 million from the California HealthCare Foundation as well as grants and pledges of support from the California Emerging Technology Fund, the California Public Utilities Commission, the National Coalition for Health Integration and UnitedHealthcare. The University of California Office of the President and the UC Davis Health System are the entities legally and financially responsible for the project.