Valley Telehealth Partnership Selects Six Healthcare Sites

MERCED - The Valley Telehealth Partnership (VTP), spearheaded by UC Merced, is set to begin establishing telehealth programs in six different Central Valley communities in order to improve local access to medical specialists. The six initial sites are at the forefront of what is expected to become a larger regional project that will use telemedicine technologies to connect patients and physicians in some of the Valley's most rural and underserved communities with medical specialists whose services are often unavailable in these areas.

The initial six partnering sites include:

Castle Family Health Centers in Atwater
Mercy Hospital Family Care Clinic in Merced
National Health Services in Oildale
San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp
Sierra Kings District Hospital in Reedley
United Health Center in Kerman.

Using high-resolution video equipment provided by the VTP, sites will be able to access specialists for real-time video consultations with patients. Specialties will include dermatology, psychiatry, pediatric specialties, endocrinology, gastroenterology and many others.

Last year, UC Merced received nearly $1 million — $500,000 from AT&T; $200,000 from the California Emerging Technology Fund and $250,000 from the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley - to establish an eHealth network in the region that would improve healthcare access. As a result, the VTP was born. The purpose of the VTP is to address the severe healthcare disparities that exist in the San Joaquin Valley's rural and underserved communities by improving access to specialty medical services for Valley residents.

"As part of the Valley Telehealth Partnership, our selected sites will bring medical expertise to Valley patients who previously would have had to incur the cost and inconvenience of traveling outside of the region to see specialists," said UC Merced's Dean of Natural Sciences Maria Pallavicini who oversees the VTP and leads planning for UC Merced's proposed medical school. "This project will improve access to specialty care in the near term and provides a foundation for the UC Merced School of Medicine in the long term by extending opportunities for medical education throughout the Valley."

The sites will benefit from connectivity, equipment and the training necessary to successfully build and maintain a telehealth program through participation in the VTP.

"We are overwhelmingly excited about this project," said Pamela Ott, with Sierra Kings District Hospital." It brings a whole new world of specialists to our very rural community. And what I love best about telemedicine is that the continuity of care is far improved when the patient and the local provider receive the diagnosis and plan for treatment at the same time."

"Our health centers are located in rural areas where people have little or no transportation," said Ronald Yee, M.D., with United Health Centers. "We bring healthcare services to our patients by being located near where they are. This project will enable patients who are some of the sickest and poorest to have access to top-notch specialty care."

More than 100 existing healthcare facilities and clinics in the Valley from Stockton to Bakersfield and surrounding foothill communities were surveyed and considered as initial partnering centers. Current funding allows for a small number of sites to be established initially, along with a hub at UC Merced.

UC Merced's Telemedicine Project Manager Jennifer Smith, who conducted the site assessments and is working to move the project ahead, says she is delighted to be collaborating with people here in the Valley who are committed to improving the health of their communities.

Installation of equipment at the partner sites and training is expected to take place later this summer.


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