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.