When Hurricane Andrew ravaged south Miami-Dade County in 1992, the University of Miami’s medical school and the national Children’s Health Fund teamed up to bring mobile health care to children living amid the ruins. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Verizon Foundation that promises to transform pediatric health care in underserved areas, their “doctor’s office on wheels” is bringing the expertise of the entire UHealth system to disadvantaged children across Miami-Dade County.
Powered by Verizon’s 4G LTE broadband network and the telecommunication company’s commitment to solving problems with innovative technology, the Miller School of Medicine medical team aboard the Children’s Health Fund’s bright blue pediatric mobile clinic can instantly connect children in need of specialized care to UM experts who are miles away via a computer, a high-speed wireless connection, video cameras, and high-tech medical equipment.
“The Verizon Foundation/Children’s Health Fund brings together the very best in technology with UM’s proven commitment to deliver health care to the underserved,” Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt said at the official debut of the Children’s Health Fund’s first telemedicine-equipped mobile pediatric clinic. “The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is proud to be the launch site for this mission.”
Held at the UM Life Science & Technology Park, the July 25 launch was a celebration of what Jeb Weisman, chief information officer for the Children’s Health Fund, called “the impact of bringing together the right people, the right technologies, and the necessary resources to build a solution that makes a difference right now.”
Though most people now take it for granted, Weisman said, achieving real-time, high-speed connectivity in a mobile clinic is akin to establishing the same on an island. “That is an amazing thing to accomplish,” Weisman said. “Verizon is helping us build and deliver the next generation of pediatric care for the children we serve.”
In the coming months, the Children’s Health Fund, which has deployed 50 mobile pediatric clinics in 17 states since its 1987 founding, and the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the telecommunications giant, plan to roll out additional health information technology projects to reach children and families in Dallas, Detroit, New York City, Phoenix, and San Francisco. The projects include secure text messaging between providers and patients to help them keep appointments and manage their illnesses and medications.
“Miami is the first of six cities where we will be introducing this transformative technology,” said Mariano Legaz, president of Verizon Wireless’ Florida region, who underscored how excited Verizon is about the future potential to transform health care. “This is just the beginning. I think technology is going to continue to be a critical tool to transform the lives of kids, especially this community that needs it so much. Thank you for allowing us to be part of this phenomenal effort.”
Given its expertise with telemedicine and its long and successful collaboration with the Children’s Health Fund mobile clinic, UM was a natural choice for launching the Verizon Foundation initiative. The site of Florida’s first telemedicine program, UM and Jackson Memorial Hospital began providing medical care to migrant workers via video conferencing 20 years ago. Today, the University provides a wide variety of telemedicine services, including remote dermatology for the cruise industry and Native American health facilities, and pediatric primary and specialty care for students at nine Miami-Dade public schools and for Children’s Medical Services clinics in Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties.
For this project, dermatology is the first specialty being offered, with plans to add cardiology, endocrinology, and nutrition.
Daniel Armstrong, vice chairman of pediatrics, harkened back to the post-Hurricane Andrew day in 1992 when the original mobile clinic opened for business in a parking lot between the devastated communities of Naranja and Homestead. “We had a little sign that we put up and it said, ‘The doctor is in – 5 cents.’ Just like Lucy used to do in Peanuts,” Armstrong recalled. “Verizon, thank you. We don’t need that sign anymore. We’ve come a long way.”
Indeed, before Verizon equipped the mobile clinic with enterprise-grade routers and small antennas, the clinic staff had difficulty connecting to their patients’ electronic health records to update files, order tests, review diagnoses, make referrals, or access immunization records. And video consultations with UM specialists located elsewhere were impossible.
Now, Lisa Gwynn, assistant professor of pediatrics and medical director of the clinic, finds it incredibly rewarding to be able to resolve fear in the eyes of parents by providing “instantaneous consultations, reassurance and treatment plans right there, live, on the spot.’’
“It keeps me going every day to be able to offer that to these kids in need,” Gwynn said.
One of her patients, Isairis Rodriguez, who moved to Miami from Panama a few months ago, chose to express her gratitude for the clinic’s free services by singing a song—the same thing the 15-year-old felt compelled to do when she visited the clinic for her school vaccines and was told she had a rash that needed treatment. Before long, Anne Burdick, professor of dermatology and cutaneous surgery and associate dean for TeleHealth and clinical outreach, examined Isairis’s rash via the telemedicine video-conferencing setup, and prescribed the cream that made it disappear.
“I think telemedicine is a grand idea,” Isairis said, before breaking into her rendition of the song “Defying Gravity.”
State Rep. Jose Oliva, a member of the House’s Health & Human Services Quality Subcommittee, also expressed his gratitude for an “impressive project” that holds the promise of not only increasing access but also reigning in the cost of health care, which consumes nearly half the state budget.
“When we can do that we will have changed the paradigm of medicine and how we deliver health care,” Oliva said.