OFFICE OF news communications
VERIZON FOUNDATION FUNDING HELPS EXPAND TEMPLE'S TELEMEDICINE PROGRAM
June 28, 2011
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Representatives from the medical school, including Jose Missri and William Santamore of the Department of Cardiology (from left) and medical school Dean Larry Kaiser, recently gathered at the Maria de los Santos Health Center to receive a $100,000 gift from Verizon Foundation to begin Telemedicine Light, a program in which doctors will work closely with community members to educate them on cardiovascular health.
Photo by Ryan Brandenberg, Temple University.
Research has shown that medically underserved communities are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, but that one way to reduce this risk could be improved health literacy — that is, a better understanding of information that could be used to make better health decisions.
To that end, Temple's School of Medicine has received a $100,000 grant from Verizon Foundation to expand its telemedicine efforts using Telemedicine Light, a program that will enable Temple doctors to work with community leaders to educate members of the surrounding neighborhoods on cardiovascular health by crafting and sending targeted, customized e-mail messages based on the unique needs and concerns of those living in an urban environment.
Much of the area around Temple is classified as medically underserved, which is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as having too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty and/or a high elderly population. Further, medically underserved populations may face economic, cultural or linguistic barriers to health care.
William Santamore, Professor of Medicine and Director of Telemedicine Research, said the goal of Telemedicine Light is to get around those barriers to disseminate health information effectively.
"You can tell someone that their blood pressure needs to be 120 over 80, or that they should go out for a walk to get exercise, but it's not enough. We need to provide actionable information, which is why we are working with trusted community leaders, to learn the best ways to do that."
“Verizon is proud to improve the quality of life and health for individuals and families by empowering the community with innovative tools and resources,” said Gale Given, president of Verizon Pennsylvania. “We’re investing in programs, such as our partnership with Temple’s School of Medicine, to touch people’s lives with technology to help the underserved access information on critical health issues. We are confident that Telemedicine Light will help to raise awareness, expand outreach, eliminate disparities and help healthcare providers increase their efficiency and effectiveness to those in need.”
Once the messages are crafted, the community leaders, as well as three community sites — Congreso de Latinos Unidos, the Maria de los Santos Health Center (part of the Delaware Valley Community Health group) and the Health and Social Services Ministry of Triumph Baptist Church — will offer the opportunity for patients to participate in Telemedicine Light. Patients will then receive a weekly message from Temple containing facts and tips on cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it.
This new program is the latest in Temple's telemedicine research efforts; the web-based system has been used for several years as a cost effective way for doctors and patients to communicate with each other on a variety of health issues, including heart disease, weight management and gestational diabetes. In several published studies, it has been shown to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs.
Telemedicine Light differs in that it will be driven by the community members themselves. Community leaders will help design health messages that are seen as important by their friends and neighbors, and will help motivate them to use the system, with the goal to increase their knowledge of cardiovascular disease, its prevention through lifestyle changes, and treatment options.
Tremayne Askew, a member of Triumph's Health and Social Services Ministry, says the use of e-mail has the potential to reach many more people in the community, instead of more traditional approaches such as full-scale public health campaigns.
"People might not read the paper or see a news report for a story about their health, but everyone I know has e-mail right there on their phones," she said.
Askew is also a member of the medical school's Community Ambassador Program, in which a cohort of community leaders are trained to educate neighbors about research processes and protocols, while guiding researchers on health issues that are most important within their respective communities. She says she is excited to start working on the project, to help people in her community get better educated about their health.
"I don't think people in our community realize how much heart disease affects them," she said. "They don't understand the risk, or that it can be mitigated. Or they think they have to completely overhaul their lives. With a little education, people will see that these changes don't need to be done all at once. It can be gradual and fit in with their lifestyle."
By working with community members and testing usage rates and improved health literacy of the enrollees, it will help researchers decide what to do next: to roll out the system to the entire community, to make adjustments, or — as Santamore hopes — to expand the program to address other health care issues such as weight loss or diabetes management.
"Our hope is that this program will improve the health literacy of the medically underserved, in order make them more proactive about their health so that disparities in health care can be reduced," he said.
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