Virtual Doctor program put on hold

(Oliver Yu)

Leif Kemp

Saddleback College has decided to table for further discussion a controversial “Virtual Doctor” initiative that is to be funded with student health fees. St Joseph’s Mission Hospital and Saddleback College are looking to partner in bringing a first of its kind program to a California Community College.

The $84,000 pilot program billed “Health Presence” is touted as a multi-dimensional approach at augmenting services already provided with face to face appointments at the schools Health Center.

While it seems almost every detail of the project needs fine tuning, the project got off to a shaky start when a March 1 implementation date was set. When murmurs of the program began to grow into a low growl, many members of the faculty and Health Center staff began asking for answers to those unanswered details.

It was later learned the date was set as a guideline for Saddleback to inform Dr. Sternberg of St Joseph’s Health System if there was even an interest in bringing the project to Saddleback.

To address these questions, and bring all interested parties to the table, Saddleback Vice President of Student Affairs, Juan Avalos Ph.D. set a March 2 meeting date. Members of the Health Center, Associated Student Government, and the Health Sciences Division were in attendance. Also included was acting Vice President of Instruction, Don Busche who initially set the March 1 date in order to keep the topic from dragging on too long without notifying St Joseph’s.

ASG President, Melissa Fenerci, ASG Treasurer, Dustin Kachad, ASG Senator for Social Sciences Division, Marissa Manning, Acting Health Center Director, Monica Nelson R.N., MSN, and other Health Center staff began looking at the details and decided much more research was needed in order to ensure student health fees were being used in accordance with the State Educational Code.

One of the obstacles to the pilot is that no other precedent exists for this type of project and there are limitations as to how student-paid health fees can be used. The March 2 meeting was an opportunity to have questions and concerns asked and answered. It quickly became apparent that with the fact a project of this nature has yet to be attempted in a community college environment, outside vendors are unaware of many legal requirements that require adherence when student health fees are utilized.

An additional issue in question is the process  in place for the initiative to be funded. Dr Avalos learned just prior to the March 2 meeting that any project over $79,000 would need to be put to a competitive bidding process. Since this project was brought to Saddleback by the vendor, it is yet to be determined whether this project will have to meet this requirement or be rebid by Dr. Sternberg and St. Josephs in order to fit under the $79,000 requirement.

The program involves physical modular units called wellness stations. These stations are equipped with the telepresence hardware and software that will be stationed in an exam room initially thought to be located in the Health center. However, according to the stated requirements for the needed dimensions to fit the hardware, there is no space large enough to accommodate the machines.

According to a Feb. 22, 2011 AT&T press release, the program will include a fully managed AT&T Telepresence Solution comprised of components including Cisco HealthPresence®, connectivity to the AT&T Business Exchange and AMD Global Telemedicine medical peripherals. This project will allow physicians and other health and wellness specialists to connect with patients virtually using the AT&T global network and real time, immersive multi-point video and audio technologies.

There is an additional element to the project, as the technology will be used by Saddleback Health Sciences Division as an element for instruction with the Nursing curriculum.

At time of print, a follow up meeting to address the March 2 discussion has yet to be scheduled. 

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