DOD enlists industry help on telemedicine project

Strategic Monitored Services (SMS) Inc. has teamed with Sprint's Government Systems Division and the Defense Department to kick off a 13-month pilot to study the viability of using World Wide Web-based telemedicine technology to treat chronically ill patients. The $4.7 million project, which is scheduled to begin in July, will involve 150 active and retired military personnel with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The project "will demonstrate an innovative health care delivery platform using protocol-driven, home-based telehealth technology," said Rear Adm. Stephen T. Fisher, the deputy surgeon general of the Navy. "The results will be used to plan future telehealth projects and are applicable and portable to other state, federal and civilian agencies." Patients taking part in the program will interact with doctors and will use interactive video, voice and data technologies. It is hoped that by using this technology, patients will no longer have to travel long distances to be evaluated by medical specialists.

TV-like monitors— essentially Web TVs— provided by SMS and video phone technology provided by Sprint's C-Phone Corp. will be used to connect patients to the Internet via their existing phone service rather than requiring them to use standard computers. In addition, monitoring devices, such as electronic stethoscopes for reading heart functions and blood pressure monitors, will be available to the patients and will transmit data in real time to health care providers at a remote Nurse Care Center in Augusta, Ga.

SMS is handling Web page development, the database, e-mail and security design for the project, said Jim Smylie, SMS' program manager for the project. In developing the solution, "we are using very strong firewall security and just about any security technique we can find," Smylie said.

Under a cooperative agreement with DOD, SMS has agreed to return a pre-determined amount of any future revenues generated by products that result from this initiative, Smylie said.

If successful, the project could lead to significant savings in health care costs for DOD, according to sources familiar with the project. "You can't do this type of thing any cheaper," said Frank Pacello, Sprint's branch manager for DOD.

Sprint has begun installing toll-free access numbers and wide-area network telecommunications services as well as dial-up and dedicated Internet access to support the project. The initial 150 patients will be located in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and they will be connected to the health care network through a data center located in Maryland.

C-Phone will provide all the video teleconferencing technology to support the project. Patients will receive C-Phone set-top video phones for installation in their homes. C-Phone also will supply and install the necessary hardware and software in the Nurse Care Center.

Pacello said he thinks the pilot project will last only six to eight months because it will be such an immediate success. "Everybody I've talked to thinks it will be a huge success," he said. "This thing is going to go international if it's successful. The potential is [for] about 100 million patients," Pacello said.

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