Telemedicine gives underserved communities access to medical experts

June 23, 2011

Sharing medical expertise through a video and phone connection has long held promise to give access to specialized consultations in remote areas. UCI Health has put into practice what many health systems still consider experimental.

Debbie McDermott is a pro at navigating complex healthcare systems. For two decades, she has shepherded her daughter Haley through a maze of consultations, exams and procedures—often with less-than-desirable outcomes.

Now, thanks to her six-year experience with UC Irvine pediatric neurologist Dr. Ira Lott, the Bakersfield mother has become an outspoken advocate of telemedicine. Every few months, McDermott takes Haley—who has cerebral palsy, severe developmental delays and a seizure disorder—to the local Kern Regional Center to consult with Lott, who sits in front of his computer screen 115 miles away in his UC Irvine Medical Center office.

Lott, a veteran of 1,200-plus telemedicine consultations, first explored the technology 10 years ago after recognizing the disparity in specialty medical care for rural communities. “Before telemedicine, we had to drive out to these areas and hold clinics. That just wasn’t cost-effective, and it didn’t foster good continuity,” he says.

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