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Mobile telemedicine clinics treat low-income children

Primary care physicians who see the young patients in medical buses use monitors to connect them to specialists remotely when necessary.

By — Posted Aug. 13, 2013

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The first of six planned mobile clinics equipped with Skype-like video screens to link dermatologists to disadvantaged children hit the road in Miami in July.

In the coming months, Dallas, Detroit, New York, Phoenix and San Francisco will launch similar mobile telemedicine clinics.

The effort is believed to be the largest to combine mobile clinics and advanced technology to allow patients to see and talk to physicians remotely in real time, said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Assn.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the marriage of mobile vans and telemedicine in this way,” Linkous said. “The idea of taking health care to the patient is part of the overall health care transformation that we are seeing right now. It’s all part of making health care more accessible.”

Mobile clinics have been around for many years, but they haven’t used telemedicine until recently. That’s because the price of technology to equip these vehicles has dropped and more physicians are comfortable with telemedicine, Linkous said.

Making a connection

For the past 20 years, primary care doctors in Miami have been treating children on these mobile clinics through the Children’s Health Fund, a charitable organization that offers mobile-based health care for homeless and low-income children. Primary care physicians from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine staff the buses, said Lisa Gwynn, MD, medical director of the mobile clinics and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Miller School of Medicine.

When the children have skin issues that require a specialist, the young patients make an appointment and return to see dermatologists remotely via monitors on the mobile clinics, Dr. Gwynn said.

“What’s really neat about this is how instantaneous this is,” she said. “The dermatologist is able to tell patients right away what they need.”

The program is expected to expand to include other types of specialists, Dr. Gwynn said.

The Verizon Foundation, a charitable arm of Verizon Wireless, donated $100,000 for equipment, including antenna systems and routers, to fund the Miami initiative, said Roselena Martinez, health care program officer for the foundation. The foundation plans to provide funds for mobile buses in the other five cities.

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