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Daniel Drawbaugh

University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center Partners With Air Force Medical Service In $8.5 Million Telemedicine Initiative

PITTSBURGH, January 22, 2002 — In a benchmark collaboration between an academic medical center and a branch of the U.S. military, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the U.S. Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) will work to develop sophisticated telemedicine technology that will ultimately link specialists in pathology, radiology and dermatology with outposts at distant locations around the globe. The partnership, which was made possible by an $8.5 million appropriation in the defense spending bill for 2002, brings together vast 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.

This marks the beginning of what the two organizations hope will represent a long-term strategic partnership that also will serve as a national model for improving the nation's health care delivery system.

"Pittsburgh in general, and UPMC in particular, are being recognized as national leaders in health care," said U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). "This reputation helped me get this funding through Congress and helped get the Air Force excited about working with UPMC, which is helping our economy and furthering our reputation as a world-class center for health care."

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. 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, 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," stated John Paul, executive vice president for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"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. 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," said Col. Robert Munson, director, Medical Readiness, Science and Technology Branch, Office of the Surgeon General, AFMS.

Service men and women and their families are among the most mobile members of society. As a result, they are often subjected to a wide variety of difficult-to-diagnose medical conditions, and their deployment to different locations often means their medical records and information are stored in disparate health information systems, hampering effective diagnosis and treatment decisions. Compounding the situation has been the closure of a number of medical treatment centers in recent years that has resulted in a reduction in funding and staffing for medical care for military personnel.

"Like our civilian counterparts, the Air Force is interested in implementing information technology that eliminates inefficiencies, increases utilization and improves quality of care, while also lowering our administrative and delivery costs. Improved information technology and management is essential if we are to deliver the best care possible given the limited manpower and resources we all are facing," explained Col. Munson.

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

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.

Indeed, the need for such a partnership is driven in large part by a decline in both the private and military sectors of specialists who are essential for the accurate diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For example, the military’s medical services are expected to lose 50 percent of its radiologists over the next three years because of a nationwide shortage of these specialists and the military’s inability to effectively compete with job opportunities in the civilian market. Routing radiology and pathology images – pictures of the cellular makeup of tissue – would help offset the shortage of specialists and make readily available real-time consultation by specialists within the Air Force system or in the private health care sector.

With biological and chemical attack looming as potential threats on society, it is more important than ever to have instant access to dermatologists who can readily recognize suspicious skin lesions that might be caused by exposure to toxic agents. A teleconsultation system would allow for swift diagnosis and more rapid treatment of conditions that manifest themselves on the skin, before life-threatening complications could develop.

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.

"This partnership would not be possible without the support of Congressman Murtha, as well as of Senator Rick Santorum. On behalf of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, we want to thank them for their support and insight. We also want to thank Senator Thad Cochran and Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi," said Mr. Paul.

"We also appreciate the support given to us by Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman John Peterson, who were instrumental in obtaining funds for our rural telemedicine project. Congresswoman Melissa Hart and Congressmen Mike Doyle, Bill Coyne, Frank Mascara and Phil English were of great support as well."

About the USAF Medical Service

The Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) works in close coordination with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the major air command surgeons, the departments of the Army, Navy and other government agencies to deliver medical service for more than 2.57 million eligible beneficiaries. Beneficiaries include active duty, family members and retirees, during both peacetime and wartime. The AFMS consists of approximately 42,000 officers, enlisted and civilian personnel, plus an additional 20,000 members assigned to the Air Force Reserves and the Air National Guard. The AFMS has an annual budget of approximately $5.9 billion and runs 74 military treatment facilities, including five medical centers.

About University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, is the leading integrated health care delivery system in western Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the United States. As an academic medical center, it is one of the country’s leaders in medical research and is a system that represents the full continuum of care, with a network of 19 tertiary, specialty and community hospitals – located in both rural and urban settings, 225 physician practice offices throughout western Pennsylvania and several nursing, personal care and long-term care facilities. With 31,000 employees, it is the largest employer in western Pennsylvania. For the third consecutive year, UPMC has been recognized as one of America’s Best Hospitals by US News and World Reports and by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine as among the top 100 Most Wired hospitals and health systems. Last year, Information Week ranked UPMC eighth among health care and medical industries for technology innovation. Its ambitious information technology initiative seeks to improve the quality of patient care, reduce errors and duplication of services and to be a more cost-effective system.

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