Cisco, ATandT Platform Power Telehealth Pilot at St. Joseph Health

St. Joseph Health is running a pilot of AT&T's Telepresence Clinic and Cisco HealthPresence to allow doctors and patients to connect remotely.

St. Joseph Health, a 14-hospital health delivery system that serves California, New Mexico and Texas, says it's seeing positive results from a telehealth pilot using AT&T Telepresence Clinic and Cisco HealthPresence.

St. Joseph has implemented the pilot to 26 providers, one psychiatrist and 250 patients, according to the hospital.

AT&T's Telepresence Clinic is a managed service that incorporates Cisco HealthPresence, a software application that allows peripheral medical devices and health care providers' remote video workstations to operate together. It routes medical data, video and audio to the doctor across the hospital's network.

In addition, HealthPresence connects to patients' electronic health records (EHRs) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), which store medical images.

TelePresence Clinic also includes AMD Global Telemedicine medical diagnostic devices and subsystems along with AT&T Business Exchange, which allows hospitals to connect other parties they conduct business with to the telehealth service.

The platform also incorporates Emerge.MD's OnePlace, a virtual clinic that allows clinicians to collaborate with other staff members and patients from any Web-enabled device. The system uses Emerge.MD's EHR application.

As part of the pilot project, St. Joseph is giving home health nurses laptop computers to use so they can direct a camera on a patient's wound, Dr. Elliot Sternberg, executive vice president, wellness and health improvement, at St. Joseph Health, told eWEEK.

Home nurses send a link to a doctor's smartphone to connect to a telehealth session. The physician then provides wound-management instructions in real time, he said.

Telehealth is a growing trend in health care in which companies such as American Well and Consult A Doctor allow doctors and patients to connect using video conferencing, phone sessions and remote messaging.

The technology reduces the wait in scheduling appointments from months to days or weeks, according to St. Joseph.

Although telehealth is a remote platform, patients still travel to telehealth clinics in some cases, such as St. Joseph Health's Camino Health Center in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

St. Joseph's collaboration with AT&T began in early 2011, and the pilot went live in early 2012. Virtual visits involve consultations with specialists and wellness providers as well as urgent care.

Initial results of a survey on the pilot's progress showed 95 percent of patients were "completely satisfied" with their telehealth session, St. Joseph reported.

Offering the telehealth service allows St. Joseph to reach underserved areas where on-site health care may not be possible, said Sternberg.

Sternberg would like to see telehealth sessions such as AT&T's implemented on-site by employees in environments such as a manufacturing plant, where injuries often occur.

St. Joseph connects medical devices such as blood pressure monitors and pulse oxymeters to AT&T's TelePresence Clinic service. High-definition handheld cameras make examinations of skin lesions possible, as well as eye, ear, nose and throat exams, said Sternberg. "Patients can see a 37-inch view of their eardrum in high definition," he said.

In the future, Sternberg hopes to be able to shine a light into patients' throats to be able to detect strep throat remotely.

The health care industry aims to reduce hospital readmissions and speed up hospital discharges by using a telehealth platform. AT&T is working with telehealth vendor Valued Relationships Inc. (VRI) to develop a remote-monitoring platform to manage chronic conditions and lower hospital readmissions.

A telehealth system offers better eye contact between doctors and patients from "100 miles away" than an in-person exam, said Sternberg. During on-site exams, doctors are often looking through documentation and medical records rather than making eye contact with the patient, he said.

As far as mobile connectivity, although the AT&T telehealth platform can't connect to the iPhone and iPad currently, this capability could come soon, according to Sternberg. "We will ultimately be able to do this over an iPhone and iPad," said Sternberg. "We're very dependent on bandwidth and the speed of the Internet."

As with prescription administration, one major limitation in telehealth is that the physician must be licensed in the state where the patient is located, Sternberg noted. "I hope regulatory bodies will catch on with that and enable licensing in all 50 states," he said.