The California Telehealth Network is an effort to create the nation's largest health care IT wireless infrastructure so doctors can monitor patients remotely, particularly patients in rural areas.
California has formed what it
says is the United States'
network to deliver medical care to patients in rural and underserved areas.
At a news conference at the University of California Davis Cancer Center, in
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. CTO Aneesh
Chopra were among the dignitaries discussing the project.
"Through a simple broadband link, this state-of-the-art system will
save lives by instantly connecting people from across the state, including
underserved and rural areas, with the best and brightest doctors," Schwarzenegger said in a
statement. "The California Telehealth Network marks the beginning of a
new digital highway that will fundamentally change the future of how health
care is provided."
The CTN builds upon the broadband task force Schwarzenegger's administration
created in 2006, he said, according to a transcript of the event.
"My dream was to build broadband networks all across the state of California
so that everyone could consult the best and the brightest medical
experts," the governor said, adding that UC Davis is building a 52,000-square-foot
facility to train doctors in telemedicine.
The new network also aims to provide security for EMRs (electronic medical
records) and prescriptions, he said.
The CTN is intended to connect 800 medical sites within three years,
starting with Oroville Hospital
in Oroville, Calif.,
and the CommuniCare Health
Center in West
Sacramento. AT&T will build the telecommunications infrastructure
for the telehealth network, which will allow doctors to monitor patients
remotely at clinics and hospitals through a wireless broadband peer-to-peer
The CTN is a combination public and private network that drew on $30 million
to get started, including $22.1 million from the Federal Communications
Commission and $3.6 million in matching funds from the California Emerging
Technology Fund. Other organizations that contributed grants include the
California HealthCare Foundation, UnitedHealthcare, the National Coalition for
Healthcare Integration and the University
At the news conference, CTN Executive Director Eric Brown said the network
will use telemedicine applications to conduct physician consultations over high-definition video and to exchange medical records and
X-rays. Chopra said the CTN will be the foundation for economic growth in the
nation's health care system.
The launch of the CTN on Aug. 17 is getting mixed reactions from industry
ZDNet health care blogger Dana Blankenhorn predicted that the new telehealth network will fail due to a lack of uniform
standards for EMR applications.
"Without standards that are applied uniformly, all you can possibly
have is a two-way transmission of data, which is heavily dependent on both
sides of the line using the same formats," Blankenhorn wrote.
"Telemedicine cannot be divorced from EMRs."
Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting
Group, acknowledged the interoperability challenges of the CTN but
predicted success for the effort because of the federal government's meaningful use mandate on how to implement electronic
records to receive federal stimulus money.
"As the network starts to come online and the vendors are held to task
because of meaningful use requirements, I think the issues of continuity of
care and continuity-of-care records will start to be addressed," Malkary
As further reasons to expect success for the CTN, Malkary noted the
additional funds now available from public and private sources, faster
broadband download speeds of 5M bps and the success of telemedicine technology
"Remote patient monitoring technology has been demonstrated to be
clinically effective for specific diseases like COPD [chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease], diabetes and asthma," Malkary said. "We need to
find a meaningful and cheap way to deliver care to people in remote and even
underserved urban areas."
One issue that was not addressed in the CTN announcement was how doctors
will be reimbursed for telemedicine services and how billing codes will be
applied, Malkary added.
Brian T. Horowitz is a freelance technology and health writer as well as a copy editor. Brian has worked on the tech beat since 1996 and covered health care IT and rugged mobile computing for eWEEK since 2010. He has contributed to more than 20 publications, including Computer Shopper, Fast Company, FOXNews.com, More, NYSE Magazine, Parents, ScientificAmerican.com, USA Weekend and Womansday.com, as well as other consumer and trade publications. Brian holds a B.A. from Hofstra University in New York.