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NCI plans new telemedicine program
Curriculum planned to start this summer

Thursday, February 28, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The New College Institute (NCI) aims to start its new telemedicine program by this summer.

The program will be called the Southside Telehealth Training Academy and Resource Center (STAR). It will teach people to use modern medical technology so health care providers — including ones outside the Martinsville area — can monitor patients’ chronic health problems and other ailments via electronic links.

That should help patients have better outcomes and, hopefully, keep them out of the hospital, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

Hospitals will benefit as well as patients, Wampler said. He noted that under new federal health care regulations, Medicare and Medicaid will not reimburse hospitals for treatments provided to inpatients readmitted within 30 days of their initial stays.

STAR is a joint venture of NCI and the University of Virginia (U.Va.) Health System.

NCI and U.Va. on Wednesday announced they are getting a $270,000 grant from the Virginia Health Workforce Development Initiative toward establishing the academy.

Wampler estimated it will take about $570,000 to launch STAR. He said NCI will seek funds from other sources to cover the remaining cost.

STAR will be geared toward medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and home health aides. But the academy will be open to anyone who wants to learn to use the technology, Wampler said.

NCI expects to initially enroll about 250 students in the academy. Wampler said he thinks many of those people will be employees of area health care providers such as Memorial Hospital and the local Carilion physicians’ offices, as well as students from area nursing schools.

That enrollment target was set based on interest in the program shown in surveys, he said.

Examples of technology that he mentioned include digital stethoscopes and blood pressure monitors, as well as computer systems through which patient conditions are monitored and patients communicate with care providers.

NCI officials indicated that because technology is ever-evolving, new devices eventually may come along that replace existing technology.

Training health care professionals to use telemedicine technology “will aid them in providing high-quality care and service to their patients,” said Dr. Karen Rheuban, director of the U.Va. Center for Telehealth.

Telemedicine also includes video links that let people access specialty care from doctors outside their communities without having to travel, added Eric Swensen, a U.Va. Health System spokesman.

Those who complete the academy will receive a certificate from U.Va. that shows they are a “certified telemedicine technologist,” Wampler said.

STAR eventually will be based at the NCI building that will be constructed on the Baldwin Block uptown. Initially, it will be based in the King Building on the courthouse square, according to Wampler.

Plans are for classes to be taught by U.Va. instructors and some local health care professionals who are being recruited, he said.

“We’ll find the right people to deliver” the classes, added Leanna Blevins, NCI’s associate director and chief academic officer.

The curriculum will involve various components, including a general overview of telemedicine, an introduction to the types of equipment involved, learning how to set up the equipment and use it to monitor patients, and federal and state health care laws.

Classes will be taught somewhat based on when groups of workers at local health care providers are available to take them, officials said.

Wampler said he anticipates students will be able to earn their certificates in about a year after they enter the academy.

The academy eventually may be expanded elsewhere. Wampler mentioned, for instance, that U.Va. has shown interest in expanding it to the university’s College at Wise.


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