Surprisingly, 13 percent of Californians live in rural communities according to Mario Gutierrez, Policy Advisor for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), a non-profit planning and strategy organization based in Sacramento. The organization supported by the California Health Care Foundation with $2 million in funding, is working to remove the policy barriers that prevent the integration of telehealth technologies into California’s healthcare system.
Gutierrez recently spoke at the “Alliance for Health Reform” briefing held October 13th on Capitol Hill to emphasize that telehealth is one solution that is needed and vital to use in California. Services highly needed in the state include dermatology, neurology, endocrinology, hepatology, orthopedics, and psychiatry.
The situation is critical. For example, Merced County in the rural section of the San Joaquin Valley is almost entirely dependent on out-of-town specialist referrals. A 2009 survey done by the University of California Merced found that 80 percent of the patients received referrals but less than 25 percent actually followed through with appointments.
One of the major problems in California is the need to link University of California specialists with safety net clinics. Gutierrez explained that CCHP has initiated a telehealth demonstration project that connects safety net clinics across the state with medical specialists at the University of California Schools of Medicine at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco that will run through early 2012. For Phase 1 there are 12 safety net clinics statewide, and for Phase 2 another 36 clinics have applied to join.
CCHP purchases specialty clinic time from all five of the UC medical schools. Specialty telemedicine clinics are reserved exclusively for the patients of SCSNI partner clinics allowing access to care for patients regardless of insurance eligibility.
CCHP is also very involved in a yearlong research project that is examining the state’s telederamatology workforce as relates to issues such as teledermatology reimbursement for the Medi-Cal program and overall dermatology practice patterns. The plan is to produce baseline data on teledermatology practitioners, analyze viable practice models, and identify key policy issues facing telederamtology in California. The project is scheduled to run through May 2011.
CCHP is working to improve past legislation (Telemedicine Development Act of 1996) to meet today’s needs. To do this, CCHP formed the Telehealth Model Statute Work Group with 26 members representing a diverse group of prominent stakeholders. These stakeholders include telehealth and health policy experts, telehealth providers, consumer representatives, payers, telehealth industry representatives, and telehealth law experts. A model statute is scheduled for completion in early 2011.
For more information on CCHP, go to www.ConnectedHealthCA.org or call (916) 285-1857. Go to www.allhealth.org to find out more information on the briefings and the documentation available.