UnitedHealth Group's national care provider network, including 590.000 physicians and care professionals and more than 4900 hospitals, combined with Cisco's industry-leading video conferencing and other collaborative network technologies, will help connect patients more easily with primary care physicians, specialists and hospitals. Connected Care will make clinics available in the workplace, as well as in rural and retail locations. In-home visits using similar technology will also be introduced to truly bring care to the patient.
UnitedHealth Group's diverse health businesses serve more than 70 million Americans and are able to integrate and share health information to help better co-ordinate patients' care. The company's national reach and deep experience in merging technology with clinical expertise gives Connected Care the broad scale that other telehealth programmes have not achieved.
"Connected Care is the house call for the 21st century and is our latest innovation providing people with greater access to quality care", stated Stephen J. Hemsley, chief executive officer, UnitedHealth Group. "The combination of Cisco's technology and our national health care resources will make it easier for people to receive care where distance has been an obstacle."
Cisco HealthPresence will be one of the principal technologies enabling Connected Care, using video, audio and medical information to create an experience remarkably similar to an in-person visit with a doctor. To mark the announcement, the companies unveiled on Capitol Hill the UnitedHealth Group Connected Care mobile clinic - an 18-wheel clinic showcasing the technology and connectivity available through the network.
"In developing advanced telemedicine technologies, we're unlocking new possibilities for how patients can interact with doctors and medical staff. The in-person visit with a doctor is no longer the sole 'gold standard' method for delivering high-quality health care services", stated Dr. Kaveh Safavi, vice president Global Healthcare Practice, Cisco Systems Inc. "Instead, we've now introduced a new care at-a-distance health care delivery model that better connects people, information and processes into one continuum of care. This new technology-enabled delivery model will improve productivity and efficiency in health care while at the same time minimizing costs for access to quality care services."
Connected Care is being built on an open network that will integrate multiple vendors' technologies with Electronic Health Records and other IT platforms. The programme will enable real-time connectivity and consultations among doctors, nurses, and health system professionals across the country, creating a more connected system of health care. Cisco's Contact Center facilitates the intelligent routing of caregiver communications, and its network security technology ensures remote communications between patients and caregiver staff is safe and secure.
The two companies successfully tested the Connected Care programme in a pilot with Cisco employees in San Jose, California over a recent, seven-month period. Ninety percent of participants said they would recommend the programme to others. The San Jose telehealth pilot programme is one of three telehealth pilots recently conducted by Cisco. Other pilots included Aberdeen, Scotland and New Zealand. UnitedHealth Group employees in Minneapolis are preparing to participate in a similar pilot.
There are six Connected Care programmes in development that will explore how this approach is received in communities across the country and provide valuable insight on using this technology to extend access to quality care in a more efficient manner.
UnitedHealth Group has signed a partnership with international health education and humanitarian assistance organisation Project HOPE - one of Connected Care's first implementations. A Connected Care mobile clinic will help residents in New Mexico obtain health screenings and treatment. The programme will have a focus on identifying and addressing diabetes and other chronic diseases.
John P. Howe, III, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Project HOPE, stated: "The United States is renowned for the latest advances in health technology and care, but not all Americans have access to them. This unique partnership will help improve access to care through initiatives like this. Project HOPE is proud to partner with UnitedHealth Group to work toward a sustainable approach to overcoming health care disparities in rural and other underserved populations."
The programme will be available to residents in the first quarter 2010 and will also include a "train-the-trainer" component to advance local health worker capacity, helping improve care quality in these communities for the long term.
The Association of American Medical Colleges has estimated that due to population growth, aging and other factors, the country is facing a potential shortage of 159.000 primary care physicians by 2025. Moreover, studies show that inconsistent access to physicians and other care providers results in poorer health.
"Educating and training more physicians is a long-term solution to addressing this country's physician shortage. Through Connected Care, we can advance access to medicine in America and spread clinical expertise over greater distances today to people who are suffering from inadequate access to care", stated Reed V. Tuckson, M.D., executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group.
The initiative will help address these inconsistencies in care by providing an array of preventive health care as well as specialty care services including:
- Treatment of a wide variety of conditions, ranging from common ailments like colds, flu, fevers, and allergies, to more chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, which require specialist attention;
- Follow-up exams for those being treated for specific conditions or illnesses;
- Wellness programmes for employees/patients to stay healthy; and
- Acute care for the ill.