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7/15/2009
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Cisco, UnitedHealth Group Launch Telehealth Network

The national platform will deliver health services by videoconference to rural areas, inner city communities, or anywhere distance or clinician shortages hinder affordable care.

UnitedHealth Group and Cisco Wednesday announced they're launching a multi-million dollar initiative to build a national telehealth network. Although the initial focus is on patients in rural and inner city communities, the companies envision providing a platform for delivering health services wherever distance or shortages of clinicians present obstacles to affordable care.

The Connected Care initiative builds off a relationship UnitedHealth and Cisco forged last year to "change the way healthcare is delivered," said Dr. Pam Hymel, Cisco's corporate medical officer." That work included three pilot programs, including one involving 400 Cisco employees in the company's San Jose facilities who were linked for their care with physicians and other healthcare providers in Los Angeles.

Health insurer UnitedHealth Group brings to the table its network of 590,000 doctors and 4,000 hospitals, as well as relationships with labs and pharmacies, and a vast base of medical claims data and other information, said Dr. Jim Woodburn, UnitedHealth Group VP and medical director of telehealth.

Cisco is providing technology and services, including a telehealth infrastructure for exchanging health information electronically. That infrastructure includes collaborative network technologies, such as high- definition videoconferencing. The infrastructure also supports a range of multivendor products, including electronic medical records systems and biometric devices for blood pressure, glucose, and other clinical measures and testing.

The Connected Care program involves setting up local telehealth clinics in rural communities and inner cities, enabling patients to access affordable urgent and preventative care by remotely connecting to physicians, specialists, and "a host of other clinicians" including case managers and a 24-hour nurse line, said Woodburn.

The videoconferencing and digital medical gear allow the clinicians to examine patients from afar, whether it's a physician listening to a patient's heartbeat or a dermatologist examining a suspicious skin lesion.

While UnitedHealth Group and Cisco officials didn't disclose how many remote clinics will be set up, the plan is to include telehealth clinics in retail settings, workplaces, and mobile clinics that travel to patients. A Connected Care mobile clinic will be available starting in the first quarter of 2010 to diabetic and other chronically ill patients in New Mexico through a partnership between UnitedHealth Group and ProjectHope, an international health education and humanitarian assistance organization.

Eventually, the Connected Care program will also support in-home telehealth visits for chronically ill patients.

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