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DEDC Publishes RFP For Telemedicine Care In Vieques

Studies by Dr. Jaime Claudio et al lead way for implementing medical-data transfer system


August 31, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC) published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for implementing of a telemedicine pilot project in Vieques.

The project—part of the local government’s science and technology initiative—entails implementing technology to provide secure transfer of medical data between two locations. Its cost is estimated at $700,000 to $1 million.

RFP results should be known this week as only two companies were invited to bid on the project. One is a consortium made up of Integrated Technologies Corporation (Intech), Medical Biotronics, Vitelnet and Picture Tel. The second bidder was Cybertech Superior Consulting.

Telemedicine uses telecommunications technology to transfer medical data from one location to another via high-resolution images, sounds, live video, and patient records. It is especially useful in areas where certain medical services, like specialized care, are not readily available.

In May, the DEDC received a feasibility study it had requested from Integration Technologies Corporation (Intech), in San Juan. The company develops integrated solutions for the healthcare industry’s information technology needs.

Dr. Jaime Claudio, director of Medical Informatics Group at Intech, was responsible for the study. Microsoft, Blue Shield, Informed, Universal Career Center, Jose Muratti and Associates, Dr. Jose Piovanetti, Dr. Jay Sanders, and Dr. Richard Dick also participated in the study.

The initial report analyzed the simultaneous implementation of telemedicine projects for two sites—Vieques and Lares’ Castañer sector. "[But] the DEDC decided that the eight- to 12-week implementation of the project would take place in Vieques first, followed by Castañer," Claudio said.

The study identified San Juan’s Centro Medico ss the telemedicine referral center to be linked to Vieques. According to Claudio, "Wireless will probably be the best telecommunications technology for creating a wide-area virtual system for a rapidly deploying high-bandwidth telemedicine network." It also named potential telemedicine technology vendors and integrators capable of implementing the various applications needed for the medical services, which include teleradiology and telecardiology.

"Vieques spends more than $300,000 a year in ambulance transportation and Aeromed (aerial helicopter-ambulance service provider) chartered for emergency and urgent referrals. It is estimated that at least 25% to 35% of such referrals and costs [$75,000 to $105,000] could be avoided with a telemedicine service catering to the most urgent health services needs," the Intech study said.

A second study cited by Intech states, "the variable costs of a telemedicine referral were $144 vs. an estimated face-to-face referral cost of $183." This 21% reduction in costs responds mostly to patient travel costs and lost-employee productivity.

With a population of close to 10,000, Vieques’ Family Heath Center is the only facility that provides emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Managed by the municipal government, it is also the only emergency service provider available after 3:00 P.M.

Vieques’ most critical health need is reducing the amount of patients referred for radiological and laboratory services. The major fields of medicine affected are emergency medicine, cardiology, and obstetrics and gynecology.

Emergency diagnoses include traumas (21.2%), cardiology referrals (15.4%), acute abdomen (10.2%), sepsis (7.7%), strokes (6.4%), and GI bleeding (3.2%). Of community members polled, 70% agreed they would get better service with telemedicine and 85% said they would rather visit the Family Health Center for a telemedicine consultation than visit a specialist at a remote site.

According to Intech, several corporations locally are being considered as possible funding sources for the project. Among them are Puerto Rico Telephone, Triple S, Microsoft, Glaxo-Wellcome, and American Telemedicine Corp.

The study also points out federal funding sources, among them the Health and Human Services Administration, National Institute of Mental Health, National Library of Medicine, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Office for the Advancement of Telehealth, Office of Rural Health Policy, and Rural Utilities Service.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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