Earlier this month the 20-hospital University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) announced that it signed an agreement with Alcatel-Lucent to develop a telemedicine platform and suite of applications that will enable patients to receive care outside the walls of hospitals and doctors’ offices.
The solution, which is expected to go live in early 2013, will offer secure and real-time clinical encounters in a virtual exam room that is designed to fit the workflow of healthcare providers and the mobility of patients, according to UPMC. It will use a secure Web portal that will allow patients to have access to both scheduled and emergency care from any location, at any time, through a variety of mobile devices using real-time video and audio communication among multiple participants located in multiple locations.
The ability to allow real-time communication through video-conferencing is the first of three planned capabilities. It will be followed by store-and forward capability to communicate asynchronous data, such as a radiology image, where there is no need for real-time communication with a patient; and remote monitoring, that enables remote chronic disease monitoring between the provider and the patient in his own home.
“The project is in the early stages of development,” says Mark Hrzic, director of engineering of UPMC’s Technology Development Center (TDC). “We will be moving to the other portions later this year.”
Casey Helfrich, chief architect of TDC, notes that UPMC has literally hundreds of telemedicine efforts operational today at UPMC. “This particular project is essentially trying to build a standardized platform that we can roll out and support all of these telemedicine efforts. The goal of the current project is to establish a single, cohesive platform that can accommodate UPMC’s many telemedicine services, each providing a customized experience based on the same core technology."
He sees the project it as a question of scale. “The technology is getting to the point where it is enabling telemedicine to grow, so it’s a feasible approach,” he says, adding that he various telemedicine services share certain commonalities.” There is something to be said for centralization in technology development, so for the things these services do have in common, we can take advantage of that and build a much more efficient overall system.”
The project is an example of how UPMC is thinking ahead, as technology allows patients to take a more active role in their own healthcare. As noted by Helfrich, this project is a step forward to making that vision a reality.