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University of Texas System’s Virtual Health Network will increase access to quality health care statewide
To better serve Texans living in remote areas, The University of Texas System is expanding a network of technology to increase access to basic and specialized health care. This Virtual Health Network uses a relatively new health care delivery method – telemedicine – to provide more people with the care they need, wherever they may be.
Telemedicine uses specialized videoconferencing to enable health care providers to assess and treat patients without being in the same room or even the same building or city. UT institutions already are leaders in this type of care delivery, especially UT Medical Branch in Galveston, which has been practicing telemedicine for more than 20 years, providing care remotely to Texas prison inmates, cruise ship passengers, researchers in Antarctica as well as patients in rural areas.
The Virtual Health Network will build on the system’s existing capabilities, providing the infrastructure to connect all of UT’s health institutions and medical schools under one statewide telemedicine network.
“This initiative is about serving Texans by improving their access to quality health care, no matter where they live in the state,” UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “And it illustrates how UT institutions can amplify their collective impact by maximizing their individual strengths through collaboration.”
The Virtual Health Network initially was established in 2016, when the UT System Board of Regents approved $10.8 million to improve access to underserved areas of Texas, enhance patient care and increase coordination and collaboration among experts systemwide.
Alexander Vo, UTMB’s vice president of telemedicine and health innovations, presented an update on progress during the Board of Regents meeting Wednesday.
“As a result of the progress we have made, we are addressing the gaps in care provision, particularly for patients who are in situations where care is difficult to access,” Vo said. “As we continue to expand these and other planned institutionally-based initiatives, the Virtual Health Network will serve as a conduit for coordinated care, enhancing collaborations across the institutions and providing a vital resource for state agencies and other organizations to provide access to every citizen of Texas.”
Through the Virtual Health Network, UTHealth already is providing care to psychiatric patients at two state mental health hospitals; UTMB is assisting students with behavioral health needs in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey; and UT MD Anderson Cancer Care has partnered with UT Health Science Center at Tyler and UT Health San Antonio to provide care to patients at satellite locations, allowing them to access the latest cancer treatments without traveling long distances.
About The University of Texas System
For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of more than 235,000 students and an operating budget of $19.5 billion (FY 2019), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. UT institutions produce nearly 59,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and almost two-thirds of its health professional degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 7.8 million outpatient visits and 1.6 million hospital days last year. Across UT institutions, research and development expenditures total $2.7 billion – the second highest among U.S. public higher education systems – and the UT System is regularly ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the world. The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and nearly 85,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff.