Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona and University Medical Center team up to enhance trauma care in rural Arizona

Tucson 15 August 2006Trauma patients in rural areas of southern Arizona will soon be treated by UMC physicians without having to spend precious time traveling to Tucson. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) and University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson have launched BCBSAZ's funding of a Telemedicine for Teletrauma & Critical Care programme. The teletrauma programme will facilitate the virtual presence of a UMC physician at nine participating hospital emergency rooms in southern Arizona.

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Teletrauma consultations can be done in real time on an as-needed basis. No appointment is necessary. The teletrauma programme is available 24 hours a day seven days a week. According to UMC, home to the region's only Level 1 trauma centre, this programme is the second teletrauma programme of its kind. "The programme, only the second established trauma telemedicine programme in the world, will save lives, increase efficiency, and bring an improved level of care to Arizonans in trauma situations", stated Gregory A. Pivirotto, UMC President and Chief Executive Officer.

The programme is now active at Southeast Arizona Medical Center in Douglas and will soon be available in Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, and Sierra Vista Regional Health Center. Emergency room doctors in five additional rural Southern Arizona hospitals will have access to this new technology by the end of the year, including Benson Hospital; Mt. Graham Community Hospital in Safford; PHS Indian Hospital in Sells; USPHS Indian Hospital in Whiteriver; and Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox.

The programme is part of BCBSAZ's efforts to provide Arizonans with access to health care in Arizona's rural areas and potentially reduce the costs associated with trauma care. "This innovative teletrauma programme aligns with our mission of helping to improve access to health care for all Arizonans. Many rural medical practices and care facilities are facing a shortage of specialists, particularly in the area of acute trauma. This programme leverages technology to help bridge that gap by providing a link between UMC trauma specialists and physicians in outlying areas in a manner that can save lives and reduce health care costs", stated Richard M. Hannon, BCBSAZ Senior Vice President of Marketing and Provider Affairs.

Rifat Latifi, MD, FACS, spearheaded the programme. He is professor of clinical surgery at the University of Arizona and the Associate Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Programme where he leads Telesurgery and International Affairs. "Teletrauma is transforming the concept of golden hour trauma care to golden minutes, when treatment is crucial. We can be there whenever we are needed. Of the 21 patients we treated in the first 13 months of this programme, five would have died had we not had the access that teletrauma provides", stated Dr. Latifi.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, is the largest Arizona-based health insurance company. The not-for-profit company was founded in 1939 and provides health insurance products, services or networks to more than 1,3 million individuals. With offices in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson, the company employs more than 1500 Arizonans.

University Medical Center in Tucson is a non-profit, 355-bed teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Pharmacy and Nursing. This year UMC was included among Solucient's 100 Top Hospitals in the nation and also among US News and World Report's Best Hospitals in America. Since 2003, UMC has operated the sole Level 1 trauma centre in Southern Arizona, serving a population of 1,3 million people in Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Pinal Counties as well as western New Mexico and northern Sonora, Mexico. More than 4600 trauma patients receive care each year in the hospital's trauma centre, making it the busiest trauma centre in the state of Arizona.

More information about Dr. Rifat Latifi is available in an interview by Bob Pyke Jr., titled Teletrauma... From myth to reality? An interview with Dr. Rifat Latifi, Associate Professor of Surgery and Trauma and Critical Care, University Medical Center, Tucson, Arizona, which has been published in VMW's June 2005 edition.


Leslie Versweyveld

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