Insurer, Tech Vendor Plan Major 'Telehealth' Network

A major health insurer, UnitedHealth, and a computer networking company, Cisco Systems, are teaming up to create "a network of virtual clinics to make medical care available in offices, stores and rural areas around the country," Bloomberg reports. Under the plan, United Health will spend "tens of millions" to set up the clinics using equipment provided by Cisco. "Cisco and UnitedHealth see a growing market in remote doctoring as lawmakers consider an overhaul of U.S. health care, said Jim Woodburn, a UnitedHealth vice president. The stimulus package approved in February included $6 billion for 'telehealth' initiatives" (Nussbaum, 7/15). 

"UnitedHealth Executive Vice President Steve Rodgers said the company hopes to position itself to team up with various states as they invest that stimulus money," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Longer term, Mr. Rodgers said, the health-care system will have to rely on new ways to connect patients to doctors, as the number of Americans over age 65 swells and puts more demand on an already short supply of primary-care physicians and some specialists" (Fuhrmans, 7/16).

Separately, as networks of health services and electronic health records spread around the country, nationwide programs will face a challenge, NextGov reports: "A patchwork of conflicting state regulations may hamper the Obama administration's plan to quickly cut health care costs by transitioning from paper to electronic medical records, say some vendors and hospital managers." One problem is that many hospitals will also have to maintain paper records because of state laws requiring that those records be preserved for seven years or more (Sternstein, 7/15).

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