Arizona is on the leading edge of real health care reform with its Arizona Telemedicine Program, a private network built and operated by the University of Arizona. The private network was built because the telecommunications providers were not interested in bringing services to the state’s rural areas, and those areas have big medical needs.
In 1996, then-State Representative Bob Burns and Dr. Ronald Weinstein co-founded Arizona’s telemedicine program to link rural sites together and train health workers to use videoconferencing to serve remote areas of the state and prisons. Telemedicine enables remote diagnosis in cases of trauma, determatology, and even psychiatry. In many cases, it’s the only way people in rural parts of the state can see a specialist.
There are now 55 health organizations operating 150 sites, all receiving infrastructure services from the Arizona Telemedicine Program and provider services from different health professionals.
For example, the Yuma Regional Medical Center, the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit is serviced by University Pediatricians in Tucson, whose Pediatric Cardiologist performs tele-echo-cardiograms on newborn babies to decide if they have to be air-evaced to metropolitan hospitals..
Telemedicine can reduce fragmentation of care and provide continuing medical education. The Arizona Diabetes Virtual Center of Excellence has educated over 100 health professionals and teachers.
In the future, programs like the U of A’s, which I saw yesterday, will be the cornerstones of access to affordable care.