The use of telemedicine first came about as a popular solution for medical access in rural areas, but a new pilot program from Rutgers is focusing on underserved populations in public housing. When telemedicine is used appropriately, it has a unique capacity to improve access to healthcare and lower costs, improving health care outcomes and making it a widely accepted part of today’s health care delivery system.

The Rutgers School of Nursing and Rutgers Business School have partnered with SmartCareDoc, a telemedicine platform from Pennsylvania-based Telemed Ventures, to work with 10 patients living in Newark public housing. Using portable devices that plug into a laptop, tablet, or phone, the provider can listen to a patient’s heartbeat; check a patient’s temperature, blood pressure, or pulse rate; and obtain a real-time electrocardiogram reading.

One of telemedicine’s most commonly cited challenges is that it isn’t a billable doctor’s visit, which means physicians can’t be paid for its use, a problem that the study hopes to investigate and address. Evidence already exists for the effectiveness of telemedicine across rural communities (which is why Medicare covers it), but the study hopes to expand understanding of the effectiveness of telemedicine in urban centers like Newark.

Rutgers’ program is distinctive because unlike most telehealth companies that target physicians, Rutgers is targeting nurses in this study. Many community health programs are managed by nurses and nurse practitioners are the primary care providers. Telemedicine could be another method for nurses and nurse practitioners to serve their patients, especially with the rise of insurance companies recognizing that nurse practitioner driven primary care is just as effective as a physician-based model.

This pilot program will be bringing telemedicine to individuals who can benefit from the innovative healthcare model, but who have likely never heard of it. This is an important step forward for telemedicine which has the potential to mitigate the current health care crisis by improving access to healthcare and substantially reducing costs. Many lower income and urban communities have poorer health outcomes and greater barriers to care (like transportation), but projects like this one can help uncover ways to take the burden off of people with chronic conditions, helping them to live healthier lives.

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