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Rutgers-affiliated telemedicine program targets Newark's underserved

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Rutgers School of Nursing and Rutgers Business School have partnered with a company called SmartCareDoc.
Rutgers School of Nursing and Rutgers Business School have partnered with a company called SmartCareDoc. - ()

The use of telemedicine first became popular as a solution for the population in rural areas, but a new pilot program in Newark is focusing on the underserved population in public housing.

Rutgers School of Nursing and Rutgers Business School have partnered with SmartCareDoc, a telemedicine platform that is part of Langhorne, Pennsylvania-based Telemed Ventures, for 10 patients currently living in Newark public housing.

“Telemedicine is rapidly becoming an accepted part of the health care delivery system,” Ann Bagchi, a registered nurse and instructor at the School of Nursing, said in a statement. “When the technology is used appropriately, it has a unique capacity to improve access, lower costs and improve health care outcomes.”

Bagchi is credited with being a key driver of the pilot study.

SmartCareDoc uses portable devices that plug into a laptop, tablet or mobile phone to allow the provider to listen to a patient's heartbeat; check a patient’s temperature, blood pressure or pulse rate; or obtain an electrocardiogram reading in real-time, according to a statement from Rutgers.

One of the most commonly cited challenges to accepting telemedicine is it is not a billable doctor’s visit, so physicians cannot get paid for its use.

Bagchi said the study will look at that.

“We expect this project will help build on the evidence base for the effectiveness of telemedicine across settings. The evidence is already there for rural communities, and that is why Medicare is covering it. Now, we hope to expand our understanding of effectiveness in urban centers like Newark,” she said.

Many telehealth companies target physicians rather than nurses, making the Rutgers program distinctive.

"Our community health program is managed by nurses and nurse practitioners provide the primary care," Bagchi said. "Telemedicine can be one more method for us to serve our patients. Lots of insurance companies are recognizing that nurse practitioner-driven primary care can be just as effective as physician-based models."

Benjamin Melamed, a professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School and the principal investigator of the project, said, “Telemedicine has the potential for mitigating the health care crisis by improving patient access and substantially reducing costs.”

Raj Shah, CEO and founder of SmartCareDoc, said in a statement: “Working on this project with Rutgers in Newark is a great opportunity to collaborate with a highly respected research institution to expand knowledge and understanding about telemedicine use with various populations. This pilot will bring telemedicine to individuals who could benefit from this innovation, but who have likely never heard of its accessibility. We are pleased to provide this public service to the community.” 

Bagchi added, “Lower income, urban communities typically have poorer health outcomes and often face barriers to care, such as transportation. This project can help us to uncover ways to take some of the burden off people with chronic conditions and help them to live healthier lives.”

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