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Telemedicine breaks down barriers to care

CHF

Dr. Lisa Gwynn uses telemedicine to connect Anya Williams with a specialist.
Dr. Lisa Gwynn uses telemedicine to connect Anya Williams with a specialist.

Miles of Florida highway once stood between Anya Marie Williams and the health care she needed. Not anymore.

Like many children in America, Anya lives far from a major medical center. To visit a specialist, she would have to travel for hours from her home in Homestead near the Florida Everglades to Miami and back again. For her mother, finding transportation, missing work, and getting child care for Anya’s sister could easily break their family budget.

But recently, a specialist was exactly what Anya needed.

“Not long ago, I noticed bumps on my daughter’s hand,” Ms. Williams said. “I was worried, because I’ve heard they can be cancerous.”

Fortunately, Anya’s mother knew just where to turn—to Dr. Lisa Gwynn at the Children’s Health Fund mobile medical clinic. Anya and her mother already had a strong relationship with Dr. Gwynn, medical director of the Children’s Health Fund program in South Florida that is operated in partnership with University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. A couple of years ago when Anya had developed back pain, a school nurse referred her to the mobile medical clinic, which makes regular visits to Homestead. Dr. Gwynn suspected that Anya had scoliosis—curvature of the spine—and connected her to a nearby hospital where Anya had surgery for the condition.

“After that I grew four inches,” said Anya, standing up straight and smiling.

Anya continued to see Dr. Gwynn for regular check-ups, and when her mother discovered the lesion on her hand, Dr. Gwynn knew that Anya needed to consult with a dermatological specialist in Miami.

But thanks to an innovative technology partnership with the Verizon Foundation, Anya would not have to travel to Miami to see the dermatologist. Instead, the specialist would come to Anya via telemedicine, a powerful technology that allows doctors to observe a patient’s symptoms via video and to receive important health information such as heart rate and blood pressure. At the same time, patients and their parents can ask questions of the doctors just as if they were in the same room.

Dr. Gwynn is now able to bring patients like Anya onto the medical clinic in rural areas of South Florida and connect them over a 4G LTE broadband connection with specialists in the advanced telehealth program at the University of Miami Health System.

The South Florida telemedicine pilot project launched this summer—with Anya as one of its first patients. “Children’s Health Fund has been operating mobile medical clinics for 26 years, and now Verizon is helping us create the next generation of mobile care with sophisticated technology upgrades,” said Jeb Weisman, chief information officer at Children’s Health Fund. “We plan to expand the telehealth program to other parts of the country so that children never again have to be separated from the care they deserve—no matter how great the distance.”

As for those bumps, the initial news was reassuring; the specialists expressed “no concern,” according to Ms. Williams. They scheduled another visit to check up on Anya—once again using the telemedicine program to save the family time and trouble.