U of California students launch telehealth pilot for diabetes

After more than a year of development, a group of business students at University of California, Merced, are launching the first test of their Valley Telehealth Program.

The pilot will focus on women with gestational diabetes in the Central Valley region of the state. Overall diabetes rates there are 9.4 percent, several points above the 7.8 percent average for the rest of the state, according to a report in CaliforniaHealthline.

The project is starting in Dos Palos, a small town near Merced, Calif. Study participants will be given at-home glucose monitors that can transmit their testing results to physicians. They'll also have e-visits with physicians, including specialists, about gestational diabetes, diet, nutrition and other topics, rather than traveling the 30 miles or more to the physician's office.

There certainly is precedent for telehealth to shave costs for diabetic patients. We reported on a study in the journal Health Affairs last fall that found telehealth interventions, substituted for clinic-based care, cut costs an average of eight to 13 percent.     

Another, far larger, study in the U.K. showed that telehealth could cut ER visits by 15 percent, and ER admissions by 20 percent. 

Data from a pilot in Oregon found reducing a patient's need for transportation to and from physician visits, is low-hanging fruit for a telemedicine program. That state's OHSU Telemedicine Network reported saving patients and insurers $500,000 in transportation costs over a two-year period.

Interestingly, the VTP program isn't being run by a healthcare organization, but by business students with the university chapter of Students in Free Enterprise. SIFE is a global nonprofit organization that encourages its students to use business concepts to create sustainable projects for underdeveloped regions of the world, according to Healthline.

If the pilot succeeds, students plan to expand it to the entire Central Valley. "The statistics in the Central Valley are comparable to a third-world country," Jared Calinisan, a UC-Merced business major and SIFE project manager, tells Healthline. "By targeting [these] patients and helping them prevent those complications, it also cuts down on fees for hospitals."

The pilot is working through regional medical centers Mercy Medical and Merced Diabetes Center. At least six other hospitals in the Valley have been set up with high-speed connections and telehealth equipment, however, and may ultimately join in the larger project. 

To learn more:
- read the CaliforniaHealthline article
- get more detail from the VTP website 

Related stories:
Telcare glucose meter earns kudos for cellular connectivity
Study: Telehealth cuts patient deaths by 45%
Telehealth helps lower spending on chronically ill patients
Oregon telemedicine network saves $500K in transportation costs

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