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January 24, 2002

UPMC, Air Force working on telemedicine technology

In a benchmark collaboration between an academic medical center and a branch of the U.S. military, UPMC Health System and the U.S. Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) will work to develop sophisticated telemedicine technology that ultimately will link specialists in pathology, radiology and dermatology with outposts at distant locations around the globe.

Over the next year, UPMC and the Air Force aim to develop an Integrated Medical Information Technology System, a multi-specialty teleconsultation system with a common platform that initially will support dermatology, pathology and radiology clinical services. It will enable clinicians to have access to and view various types of medical information, from pathology slides to CT scans, as well as to consult with specialists at distant locations. The system will allow for swift diagnoses of various conditions where specialty medical care may not be readily available.

The partnership, which was funded by an $8.5 million appropriation in the U.S. defense spending bill for 2002, brings together clinical and information technology expertise and will aid in the recognition and treatment of many types of medical conditions, including those caused by chemical or biological agents.

UPMC also received $1.94 million in federal funds from the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education spending bill for implementation of a seamless electronic health record, a key feature of UPMC's clinical integration of a comprehensive health care delivery network. The electronic health record will link UPMC's rural hospitals, physicians' offices and clinics with its flagship hospitals and specialists in Pittsburgh.

In total, $10.44 million was allocated to support the UPMC-Air Force telemedicine technology partnership and UPMC's information technology initiative for fiscal year 2002.

"We believe our information technology initiatives to be among the most ambitious and advanced of any health care institution," said John Paul, executive vice president for UPMC Health System.

"The financial support we have received from Congress will enable us to move forward with implementing key components of our initiative that will be of great benefit to the citizens of western Pennsylvania, including our rural population.

"Furthermore," Paul said, "the support allows us to collaborate with the Air Force Surgeon General's Office and its Medical Information Services Division, a partner that clearly shares our vision that information technology is the foundation for quality health care."

"Our charter is to provide affordable, first-rate health care to our 40,000 personnel and their family members around the world, and we could not be more pleased than to partner with UPMC, a world-class academic medical center," said Col. Robert Munson, director, Medical Readiness, Science and Technology Branch, Office of the Surgeon General, AFMS. "This relationship will be of great benefit to the patients our two institutions serve; in the not-too-distant future, it will impact our personnel serving abroad and, ultimately, the delivery of health care everywhere."

In the first phase of the partnership, the telehealth initiative will be operated in conjunction with Keesler Medical Center at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., home of the 81st Training Wing.

"Together, we are developing the next generation of technology, which we fully expect to have an impact beyond our two organizations," said Dan Drawbaugh, chief information officer for UPMC Health System. "In fact, we view this endeavor as a national model and hope to expand the collaboration throughout the broader health care delivery network."

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