Texas awards telehealth pilots

The Texas Department of Health has awarded contracts for two pilot programs

that will study whether it's feasible to use telemedicine to deliver health

services to low-income women.

The yearlong pilots will expand existing programs that already use some

telemedicine — one in an urban county hospital district and the other at

a rural nonprofit health facility.

The pilots will connect primary care providers at remote sites with

specialist physicians at accredited "hub" sites. The doctors will provide

consultation and diagnoses and develop the patients' plan of care and treatment.

"One of the things we will be looking at particularly is the cost-effectiveness

of these systems for both the [patient] and care provider," said Jan Hudson,

a program specialist in the Department of Health's Bureau of Women's Health

who will be the coordinator for the two pilots.

"Will the cost of providing telemedicine outweigh the cost of travel

and care of children and the disruption of daily life that these women would

otherwise have to suffer [to get specialist care]?" she said. "And on the

providers' part, how much does telemedicine enable them to provide better

medical care in their communities?"

The pilots are among the long-term plans of the Texas legislature to

see how telemedicine can be used around the state, which has a high proportion

of isolated rural areas and urban areas. In 1998, telemedicine services

were approved as reimbursable under the Texas Medicaid program. Women's

health was selected as one of the specific areas of concern that could be

improved with telemedicine.

Once the studies are completed, the Department of Health will submit

recommendations to the Texas legislature on how telemedicine can be used

to improve health care for low-income women.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be

reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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