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Cisco, Walgreens Partner To Market Telemedicine Tools

Joint venture pitches HealthPresence telemedicine system as way to connect dispersed employees with corporate worksite clinics.

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Walgreens and Cisco are partnering to market their Cisco's HealthPresence telemedicine system to large employers with multiple sites.

In the first step toward that goal, Walgreen's Take Care Health Systems--the largest U.S. operator of worksite and retail clinics--has assumed management of Cisco's worksite clinic at the company's San Jose, Calif., campus. That clinic serves about 11,000 of Cisco's 40,000 employees and dependents. Among the health and wellness services it offers are primary care, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, vision care, health coaching, and an onsite Walgreens pharmacy.

Since 2008, primary care physicians at the San Jose clinic have used HealthPresence to remotely treat employees who visit Cisco's worksite clinic in Durham, NC. A nurse at the North Carolina site does physical exams, and the San Jose doctors receive digital input from the instruments she uses, such as a stethoscope and an otoscope.

Between the sights and sounds from these instruments and the high-definition video hookup, "the examination [by the physician in San Jose] is equivalent to what would be performed if the patient was sitting right there," said Nirma Patel, MD, director of corporate medical programs for Cisco, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

[ For more background on e-prescribing tools, see 6 E-Prescribing Vendors To Watch. ]

This month, Cisco will expand the telemedicine program when it launches a "tele-dermatology" program, Patel said. Stanford University dermatologists will use HealthPresence to remotely examine the skin conditions of patients at the San Jose clinic, she said. The goal is to increase productivity and "keep our patients within our patient-centered medical home."

Walgreens likes this idea and intends to test it further in the new health clinic at its Deerfield, Ill., headquarters, according to Peter Hotz, group vice president, health and wellness services, for Walgreens. Hotz told InformationWeek Healthcare that the "point to point" telemonitoring system used at Cisco's North Carolina office could be applied in other settings, but he thinks HealthPresence could also be "leveraged" for specialty consults with providers in worksite clinics.

The employees at the North Carolina site already receive disease management services as well as acute care and health coaching through HealthPresence. Take Care has also been strongly involved in chronic care for some time, Hotz said, and HealthPresence could help improve it through "face-to-face" encounters. Even if they're remote, he said, these contacts are better than telephonic case management.

Up to now, Patel said, Cisco has sold HealthPresence mainly to HMOs and teaching institutions. Part of the value proposition in partnering with Walgreens, she said, is to market the product to companies with multiple sites. "The employer space is very amenable to this because employers have dispersed populations, and this model lends itself well to that market."

Hotz said that Walgreens is in discussions with a number of employers about using HealthPresence. Further down the line, he added, the company might be able to use it in some of its retail operations as well. He said they're looking into new areas of video communication, such as "video-enabled pharmacy dispensing kiosks."

When are emerging technologies ready for clinical use? In the new issue of InformationWeek Healthcare, find out how three promising innovations--personalized medicine, clinical analytics, and natural language processing--show the trade-offs. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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