System’s Virtual Health Network increases Texan’s access to medical care

Katie Balevic

The UT System’s Virtual Health Network is expanding into more UT institutions, the System reported at the Board of Regents meeting on Nov. 15. 

Originally launched in 2016, the network uses telecommunication technologies, known as telemedicine, to deliver clinical care from a distance across a network of health institutions.

“This initiative is about serving Texans by improving their access to quality health care, no matter where they live in the state,” said UT System Chancellor James Milliken in a press release. “It illustrates how UT institutions can amplify their collective impact by maximizing their individual strengths through collaboration.”

Patients can go to a participating location such as a hospital or UT-affiliated emergency room for a physical exam, during which they are connected to a UT medical specialist in a different location, said Dr. Alexander Vo, vice president of telemedicine and health innovations at UT Medical Branch in Galveston.

“In our system, when the patient goes and has a telemedicine exam, he/she is in a real time video exchange with the specialist who is at a distant site while undergoing the physical exam,” Vo said in an email. “Typically, there is a ‘tele-presenter’ who is a certified medical professional who is with the patient assisting the far-side physician with conducting the exam.”

The cost of telemedicine is roughly the same as a traditional in-person visit with a doctor, because it is just a different way to provide the same care, Vo said.

The network is already operational at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston and the UT Health Science Center at Houston, among others. As additional providers and clients are added, the network could bring in an estimated $3.983 million to UT institutions, Vo said.

“This virtual health network is quite unique in the sense that there’s never really been an effort to leverage the size of all of the health institutions and put it under one tele-health umbrella,” Vo said.

While Vo said the network would happily take up conversations with UT about expanding to the Austin campus, Karen Adler, director of media relations and communications programming at UT System,  said the network is focused on providing care to rural communities.

“At UT-Austin, a student doesn’t have to travel very far to go to a health clinic,” Adler said. “This network is thinking about serving people that live in places where they would have to travel several hours to access specialty medical services.”