URMC Pediatric Telemedicine Program Lauded for Helping Kids, Families

Jun. 24, 2009
Health-e-Access also recognized for reducing health care costs

The Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) recognized the Health-e-Access telemedicine program yesterday for its achievements in improving access to health care for children and families in the Rochester area. The program, based at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Golisano Children’s Hospital, received the Community Health Improvement Award at the HANYS annual membership conference in Lake George.
Health-e-Access was launched in May 2001 as a novel way to connect pediatric patients in child care centers, schools, or community centers with their own providers at area pediatric and family medicine practices through the Internet. Its sophisticated and secure equipment and software allows transmission of information from specialized cameras and an electronic stethoscope which, along with interactive videoconferencing, help health care professionals make a diagnosis, prescribe treatments and communicate findings and recommendations. The program is the nation's largest telemedicine network focused on direct patient access from neighborhood sites.
“We saw a need in the community for parents to be able to connect their children with their health care providers quickly and conveniently, and we're proud that we've been able to accomplish this for the community,” said Kenneth McConnochie, M.D., M.P.H., the program’s director and a professor of Pediatrics at Golisano Children’s Hospital. “We've been able to diagnose common ailments in thousands of children through telemedicine, making it possible to get treatment underway immediately and allowing these children to miss as little of their education and their parents to miss as little work and family time as possible.”
The Healthcare Association of New York State established the Community Health Improvement Award in 1997 to recognize outstanding initiatives designed to improve the health and well-being of a community. Previous University of Rochester Medical Center community service programs recognized by the organization include Baby Love, a social work program aimed at reducing infant mortality, premature births, low birth weight rates, and foster care placement in poor inner-city neighborhoods, and SMILEmobile, which is essentially a dental office on wheels that brings oral health services year round to children who would otherwise not have access to much needed dental care.
“The Medical Center has a long history of innovation and leadership in the field of community service. Health-e-Access is a wonderful example of a creative approach to addressing a critical need in our community. Since improving the health of the Rochester community is central to the mission of the medical center, we are thrilled this program received recognition from HANYS,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., director of the Center for Community Health of the URMC, which partners with the community to eliminate disparities and improve health through research, education and service.
Health-e-Access has demonstrated that a large proportion of illnesses prompting office and emergency department visits can be well managed through telemedicine. McConnochie and colleagues believe it holds transformational potential for the health care system. For example, McConnochie said many children and adults presenting to emergency departments in Rochester over the past few weeks because of influenza could have been cared for appropriately via telemedicine.
“It would be much more convenient for the family, and it would be much less expensive for the health care system for people to be seen at neighborhood sites,” McConnochie said.
Health-e-Access has enabled more than 7,000 visits in child care programs and elementary schools, most of which were performed by a clinician from the child’s own medical home. Ten Rochester area medical practices have participated. Impact on children, families and emergency department use is firmly established in research published in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals. Among children in city childcare programs, absence due to illness fell 63 percent following the introduction of Health-e-Access. The ripple benefits are countless, including reducing missed education time for the children, allowing children to be diagnosed and treated quickly and cutting back or eliminating missed work time for parents. Preschool children are often sick and without access to telemedicine, lost income for parents may mount up and job security may be threatened.
Health-e-Access has also been shown to reduce health care costs by reducing emergency department visits. A community-wide study, published in the June 2009 volume of the medical journal Pediatrics and based on seven years of observations involving more than 3,000 children, found a 22 percent reduction in emergency department visits among children with telemedicine access in childcare or school when compared to a closely matched control group that did not have telemedicine access.
Disclosure: McConnochie was a founder of TeleAtrics, Inc., which supplies telemedicine systems and support services for Health-e-Access, and may receive future compensation from the company.