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UPMC brings telemedicine to rural county hospitals

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Ray Pitetti, associate division chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC (left) and Jeremy Kahn associate professor of critical care and health policy and management use this telemedicine cart as part of “Optimizing Utilization and Rural Emergency Access for Children,” or OUTREACH.

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Monday, March 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Imagine living in a rural county but getting the expertise of doctors at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh without having to travel to the city.

A webcam and Internet connection that debuts on Monday will allow that to happen for parents who take their children to one of five hospitals, courtesy of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences.

The Outreach program, short for Optimizing Utilization and Rural Emergency Access for Children, brings telemedicine to UPMC Northwest Hospital in Venango County, UPMC Horizon Hospital in Mercer County, Washington Hospital, Armstrong County Memorial Hospital and DuBois Regional Medical Center in Clearfield County.

Outreach enables professionals from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to examine and diagnose pediatric patients remotely.

“Our goal is to reduce unnecessary transfers while providing the same level of world-class service, using telemedicine, that our patients receive when they come directly to the Children's campus,” said Harun Rashid, the hospital's vice president of global health services and chief information officer.

The program, under development for about two years, became possible with a $1 million federal grant, said Dr. Jeremy Kahn, a health services researcher, physician and professor at Pitt's School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health, who leads the project.

“This is a significant step forward in how we provide pediatric emergency care in Western Pennsylvania,” Kahn said.

UPMC intends to recruit other hospitals. The grant will pay for the program for four years initially, though Kahn said he hopes to find long-term funding.

“Ultimately, we want all of the hospitals in Western Pennsylvania to be participants,” he said.

In the past year, more than 400 pediatric patients in rural facilities across Western Pennsylvania were driven or flown to Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, where doctors examined and immediately released them, emergency room records showed. Officials said telemedicine could have saved $800,000.

Outreach staffers will work with hospital officials, health care workers and families to identify barriers to providing emergency pediatric care and telemedicine at rural hospitals. They'll develop a standardized education program to help hospitals effectively use telemedicine consultations and evaluate the effectiveness of the project by examining data from the state Medicaid program, which pays for a large portion of pediatric emergency care, Kahn said.

“It's a huge expense to the Medicaid program, and it's a huge burden on families,” he said.

Outreach could become a model nationwide.

“We don't want this program to end after four years,” Kahn said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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