On Monday Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski visited Barton Health in South Lake Tahoe, a California Telehealth Network site whose telemedicine program has grown significantly since it started in 2007.
Telemedicine is the marriage between technology and medicine, allowing doctors to provide health care at a distance. A dermatologist in Reno can diagnose a patient at the South Shore with one of Barton Health's cameras that capture even the smallest blemishes on film.
Barton Health is one of the FCC's Rural Health Care Pilot Program sites. According to the FCC website, the pilot funding program is meant to create a nationwide broadband network dedicated to health care and connecting rural and urban providers.
"The program that we have that the California Telehealth Network has relied on, our rural heath care program, is something that we're really excited about. We've been very busy on various elements of universal service and broadband," Genachowski said.
California Telehealth Network is a California coalition that aims to improve heath care access for medically under served and rural Californians by providing broadband across the state. The network gives Barton access to fast transmission speeds that have allowed the health care system to expand its telemedicine patient services. It's what Barton Health Telemedicine Coordinator Ann Truscott calls the "medical autobahn through the state of California."
According to Truscott, the telemedicine program has grown significantly, allowing local patients to visit specialists from their local doctor's office. A CTN press release stated that, since the start of services in 2009, Barton has an average of about 75 telehealth patient visits a month.
"A lot of these specialists are available up in Reno. Even if you do have insurance, we figured it costs the average South Lake Tahoe resident $388 just to go for the one time visit up to Reno for a specialty consult," Truscott said.
Genachowski said he thinks telemedicine, and work like what's being done at Barton, is one of the most exciting developments in broadband in the country.
"I was sworn in for this job by President Obama in the Oval Office, and he said, 'Tell me something that I should be really excited about when it comes to broadband.' And I said, 'Telemedicine.' We talked about exactly the kinds of opportunities that you all are working on bringing to life. It's so exciting to see it operational," Genachowski said at the end of his visit.