Mobile clinic aims to help Miami kids

Children's Health Fund, Verizon Foundation kick off children's care initiative
By Bernie Monegain
10:28 AM
Anthony Llompart, Verizon Foundation Director of Healthcare Programs

About 15,000 children and family members across the country in need of healthcare will benefit from a partnership under which 15 of the Children's Health Fund's mobile medical clinics will be equipped with the latest health information technology from the Verizon Foundation.

Children’s Health Fund and Verizon Foundation kicked off the nationwide initiative in Miami July 25, with the first mobile telemedicine clinic. It connects children to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Specialists. Children's Health Fund is a pediatric provider of mobile-based health care for homeless and low-income children and their families.

The Miami pediatric mobile medical clinic enables underserved local patients to consult with specialists from the University of Miami Health System, using UM's advanced telehealth program. The Verizon Foundation is providing the mobile clinic with a high-speed 4G LTE wireless broadband connection and upgraded telecommunications equipment that enable the clinic to provide telehealth services from any of its many delivery sites.

"Children's Health Fund has been operating mobile medical clinics for 26 years, but these sophisticated technology upgrades from Verizon are helping us to create the next generation of mobile care, with real time connectivity that enables doctors, patients and resources at our hospital affiliates like the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to communicate like never before," Jeb Weisman, Children's Health Fund CIO, said in a news release. "The potential for better care is exciting as we work with Verizon to develop this telemedicine capacity here in Miami, and as we collaborate on other innovative programs across the country."

Anthony Llompart, Verizon Foundation Director of Healthcare Programs, told Healthcare IT News that he hopes "technology begins to transform care in an organized way. My dream is that everything comes together and I can see the result," he said. "It’s probably a long cycle, but…"

The biggest barrier to this type of work that Verizon has undertaken with partners, he said, is infrastructure. Without policy, IT and industry alignment, he figures it will be a bumpy road.

"Everybody is working on the idea of how do we leverage telemedicine," Llompart said. "Government regulation not aligned. In telemedicine, there is a bunch of old rules. Some states say you can do telemedicine, some you can’t."

Still Verizon and its partners are going forward.

In the coming months, the Verizon Foundation and Children's Health Fund will roll out additional health information technology projects to reach children and families in Dallas, Detroit, New York City, Phoenix and San Francisco. These projects include innovative uses of technology such as secure text messaging between providers and patients.

"The University of Miami has longstanding expertise in telemedicine, but this is the first time the technology has been made available to South Floridians in a mobile medical clinic setting," Daniel Armstrong, executive vice chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a press statement. "This telemedicine system is much more than a video chat. It allows our healthcare providers to not only see and interact with patients via live video, but also to monitor vital signs; perform advanced screenings and tests; and observe their outcomes – all in real time."

Access a problem for millions of children
In the United States, millions of children don't get the healthcare they need for a number of socioeconomic and geographic reasons. Nearly four million children, including kids with insurance, can't get to a doctor because there is no local public transportation or the family can't afford a car or the gas to drive it, according to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
"For many families, a long trip to a doctor means a day without work for the parent and puts their paycheck, and potentially their employment, at risk. As a result, medical conditions that could be prevented or cured are left untreated, and the only healthcare many of these children receive is at the emergency room," Lisa Gwynn, MD, medical director of the pediatric mobile clinic and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Miller School, said in a news release.

The Children's Health Fund's doctor's office on wheels, which travels to patients at schools, community centers and churches in Miami-Dade County as far away as Homestead, is a lifeline for thousands of these children and families that otherwise have little or no access to medical care, Gwynn added. Approximately 69 percent of the families who get their healthcare from UM physicians and staff on the mobile clinic are of Hispanic/Latino origin and 20 percent are of Haitian origin. More than 75 percent have been living in the United States for less than five years, and the vast majority – 97 percent – is uninsured, according to Children's Health Fund.

Advanced 4G LTE broadband is key
The new telemedicine technology provides a secure, safe and reliable platform for sharing patient information, as well as the acceleration of doctor response times and the delivery of life-saving treatments. The mobile clinic staff schedules telemedicine patient visits with specialists on specific days – such as dermatology on Tuesdays – so care is coordinated. In the future, cardiology, endocrinology and nutrition experts will be added to the available specialties.

The reliable 4G LTE broadband connectivity that links the mobile clinic to the medical center requires the installation of enterprise-grade routers and small antennas in the mobile clinic. Prior to this, healthcare professionals in the mobile clinic could not easily connect to their patients' electronic health records to update files, order tests, review diagnoses, make referrals or access immunization records. Telemedicine consultations were not possible.

UM doctors and clinic staff now are able to upload patients' records in real time, which can reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care for children and families.

"Technology supporting telemedicine is not new," says Verizon’s Llompart, "but this Verizon 4G LTE solution enables the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Children's Health Fund pediatric mobile clinic to deliver critical specialty care to needy children and their families – care they would normally find difficult to receive because of geographic or financial reasons. This levels healthcare access and quality for these families and makes the partnership ideal for Verizon's Innovative Healthcare Initiative."

Verizon's Innovative Healthcare Initiative supports technology-enabled patient care programs improving quality and access to care for underserved communities.