California hospital debuts clinic-based telehealth modules

St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif., is taking a unique approach to telehealth, creating a series of "wellness stations" at several of its clinics and facilities. In a partnership with AT&T, St. Joseph will create stations at seven locations stocked with vital sign monitoring equipment, video conferencing capability and other functions, AT&T officials announced. The rollout will take place over the next few months.

One key aspect of the new system to watch: How it gels with the public. The stations will be located both at physician and patient sites, making it key that they be dummy-proof. The stations will be powered by AT&T's Telepresence Solution, which company officials say has an "easy-to-use telephone interface," that can be operated "by simply pushing a button." Time will tell if patients warm up to this version of self-serve healthcare.

The health system is kicking the project off at five locations: Camino Health Clinic in San Juan Capistrano; Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach; a standalone kiosk in Rancho Cucamonga; another kiosk in St. Jude Heritage Medical Group and yet another at St. Jude Neighborhood Clinic in Fullerton. Officials say they'll add two more sites later this year.

"As a Catholic healthcare system, it is our goal to extend beyond our hospital walls to provide better access to care particularly specialty care where it hasn't been as accessible before," says Elliot Sternberg, St. Joseph Executive vice president of wellness and health improvement.

The project is just one more move that California has taken to push telehealth forward. Last Spring, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off a massive telehealth program to hook UC hospitals to both rural and urban patients around the state. University of California, Irvine, also launched its own physician-oriented telehealth program in February 2010 to allow med students to observe physicians providing patient care in rural areas. 

For more information:
- see this press release
- check out this OCMetro article
- here's the Orange County Register piece
- read this related Los Angeles Times blog post from last year

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