University of Kansas Gives Telemedicine A Test Drive with the WellCar Concept

In the United States, over 20 percent of the population lives in rural settings — but those people are served by just 10 percent of the nation’s doctors, according to the National Rural Health Association. This disparity creates an inaccessibility of care among rural residents that leads to fewer healthcare options and poorer health outcomes, among other challenges.

Enter telemedicine: the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance.  Telemedicine has the potential to eliminate distance barriers and improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available to rural communities across the United States. This proposal to provide improved care to more people isn’t just a lofty idea, but rather a program supported by those who know the business of healthcare best. A recent survey of healthcare leaders found that 84% percent felt that the development of telemedicine services is either very important or important to their organizations.

Among those working on the implementation of a telemedicine program is the University of Kansas’ Center for Design Research. According to a recent Intel case study, the group developed the concept of the WellCar, a medically adapted vehicle that empowers nurse practitioners to deliver primary care through house calls to homebound and post-discharge patients. A Panasonic Toughpad tablet sits inside the vehicle and with its Intel® Core™ i5 vPro™ processor, nurses can securely access vital data both in the vehicle and in the patient’s home. In addition to being equipped with a reliable mobile computing device, the proposed van is set up to transfer medical data securely through its own Wi-Fi hotspot to a hospital for immediate evaluation, further connecting rural residents with clinicians that are able to provide them with the best quality of care possible.wellcar-intel2

“The Toughpad, with the Intel Core vPro processor, is the brains of the WellCar—the workhorse, very fast and durable,” says CDR Director Gregory Thomas. “In addition to containing the patient health information, it will provide access to expert systems and databases, communicate with hospitals and clinics, send and receive diagnostics, and incorporate live, interactive videoconferencing technology. Its importance is huge. We looked at a ton of computers and narrowed our choice to the ones that could securely handle the heavy data and performance requirements, as well as take the hits of being on the road and being carried in and out of patients’ homes.”

The group’s telehealth concept is just one of many in a growing trend of organizations that recognize the potential of mobile healthcare. According to a report from IHS Technology, the number of patients’ worldwide using telehealth services is expected to rise from less than 350,000 in 2013 to roughly seven million in 2018.  This is good news for the more than 60 million residents currently living in rural areas of the United States.

“There are counties in Western Kansas that have no doctors or medical resources at all, and people have to travel great distances to seek medical help,” said Thomas. “The WellCar is really about a service for these patients, saying, ‘It’s okay – stay where you are, we’re going to come to you.’ For people who don’t get any or very little health care, the advent of something like the WellCar can help it go from a little to a lot.”