Anthem and University of Virginia bring medical technology to rural areas of Virginia

Richmond 17 March 2003Thousands of rural Virginians lack access to locally available speciality health care services, face long distance travel to reach a hospital or to access medical speciality care and in many cases, receive care in a less timely fashion than their urban counterparts. To help reach these citizens in need, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has awarded a $250.000 grant to the University of Virginia (UVA) Office of Telemedicine to extend the reach of speciality care into rural, medically underserved areas of Virginia.

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The grant, which will be given in $50.000 installments over five years, will be used to bring telemedicine speciality services to rural Virginia communities and foster research and development in telemedicine services.

Telemedicine is the use of information and telecommunications technologies to transfer medical information and to link patients with health care professionals. To date, the University of Virginia Office of Telemedicine has served more than 5000 patients through its network of more than 43 affiliated hospitals, clinics, schools and other facilities throughout rural Virginia.

"Telemedicine is one of the most rapidly growing areas of medicine today, and we believe it holds great promise for improving the health of all Virginians", stated Tom Snead, president, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Southeast region. "We are enthusiastic about our role in advancing this medical frontier."

Telemedicine makes it possible for health care providers to be in two places at once, enabling specialists who traditionally practise only at a teaching hospital or in an urban setting to care for patients residing in rural areas, where speciality services are more difficult to obtain.

One of the greatest benefits of telemedicine is that services may be provided to patients in their own hometown. "Prior to the establishment of this network, the process of a rural patient receiving care from a specialist may have required as much as two days of travel and an overnight stay, generally at great expense and inconvenience to the patient and his or her family. Now, through the use of these technologies, UVA specialists are available in many rural communities 365 days per year", stated Karen Rheuban, MD, medical director of UVA's Office of Telemedicine.

"With information provided by the referring physician, and with the assistance of a local health professional, using live interactive videoconferencing technologies and easy-to-use peripheral devices, a patient may be examined, a diagnosis rendered and treatment recommendations made. Care is provided when the patient needs it and at the direction of his or her referring physician", Karen Rheuban explained.

"We are extraordinarily grateful to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield for its commitment to the provision of health care services to our rural Virginians. We look forward to demonstrating the value of this technology in the enhancement of care to the underserved and geographically isolated citizens of the Commonwealth", she added.

The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies provide health care benefits to nearly 11 million people. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is a subsidiary of Anthem Inc. Both are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Anthem is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Maine and Virginia, excluding the immediate suburbs of Washington, D.C.


Leslie Versweyveld

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