UnitedHealth Group and Cisco will build the first national telehealth network, which will give patients access to physicians and specialists when in-person visits are not possible. The new “Connected Care” program combines audio and video technology and health resources to expand physicians’ reach into rural, urban and other underserved areas.
UnitedHealth Group’s national care provider network, including 590,000 physicians and care professionals and more than 4,900 hospitals, combined with Cisco’s video conferencing and other collaborative network technologies, will help connect patients more easily with primary care physicians, specialists and hospitals. Connected Care will make clinics available in the workplace, as well as in rural and retail locations. In-home visits using similar technology will also be introduced to truly bring care to the patient.
UnitedHealth Group’s diverse health businesses serve more than 70 million Americans and are able to integrate and share health information to help better coordinate patients’ care. The company’s national reach and deep experience in merging technology with clinical expertise gives Connected Care the broad scale that other telehealth programs have not achieved.
Cisco HealthPresence will be one of the principal technologies enabling Connected Care, using video, audio and medical information to create an experience remarkably similar to an in-person visit with a doctor.
To mark the announcement, the companies unveiled today on Capitol Hill the UnitedHealth Group Connected Care mobile clinic – an 18-wheel clinic showcasing the technology and connectivity available through the network.
“In developing advanced telemedicine technologies, we’re unlocking new possibilities for how patients can interact with doctors and medical staff. The in-person visit with a doctor is no longer the sole ‘gold standard’ method for delivering high-quality health care services,” said Dr. Kaveh Safavi, vice president Global Healthcare Practice, Cisco Systems. “Instead, we’ve now introduced a new care at-a-distance health care delivery model that better connects people, information and processes into one continuum of care. This new technology-enabled delivery model will improve productivity and efficiency in health care while at the same time minimizing costs for access to quality care services.”
Connected Care is being built on an open network that will integrate multiple vendors’ technologies with Electronic Health Records and other IT platforms. The program will enable real-time connectivity and consultations among doctors, nurses, and health system professionals across the country, creating a more connected system of health care. Cisco’s Contact Center facilitates the intelligent routing of caregiver communications, and its network security technology ensures remote communications between patients and caregiver staff is safe and secure.
The two companies tested the Connected Care program in a pilot with Cisco employees in San Jose, California over a recent, seven-month period. Ninety percent of participants said they would recommend the program to others. The San Jose telehealth pilot program is one of three telehealth pilots recently conducted by Cisco. UnitedHealth Group employees in Minneapolis are preparing to participate in a similar pilot.
UnitedHealth Group also announced a partnership with international health education and humanitarian assistance organization Project HOPE – one of Connected Care’s first implementations. A Connected Care mobile clinic will help residents in New Mexico obtain health screenings and treatment. The program will have a focus on identifying and addressing diabetes and other chronic diseases. It will be available to residents in the first quarter 2010 and will also include a “train-the-trainer” component to advance local health worker capacity, helping improve care quality in these communities for the long term.
The Association of American Medical Colleges has estimated that due to population growth, aging and other factors, the country is facing a potential shortage of 159,000 primary care physicians by 2025. Moreover, studies show that inconsistent access to physicians and other care providers results in poorer health.