News Feature | January 9, 2015

UAB Piloting Three-Year Dialysis Study Using Telemedicine

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Healthcare Study

An $180,000 grant allows peritoneal dialysis patients to check in via telemedicine.

A new three-year pilot study has begun through the University of Alabama Birmingham Medicine’s Red Mountain Home Dialysis Training Unit that will allow its patients living outside Jefferson County to use videoconferencing to check in with their physicians, Health Data Management reports.

According to the press release, the pilot is being funded by an $180,000 grant from Baxter International, and the purpose of the trial is to assess whether or not telemedicine can increase quality of life for PD patients without compromising outcomes.

“Some of our patients drive several hours to see us once a month,” explained Eric Wallace, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Nephrology and director of the UAB Peritoneal Dialysis Program. “We’re targeting patients who are already part of our PD program and live the farthest away, including some as far south as Dothan and as far north as Florence.”

The trial will encompass approximately 40 Red Mountain patients for each of its three years, and each patient will have six monthly face-to-face visits and six telemedicine evaluations. The results of each set of evaluations will then be compared.

The UAB trial is the most comprehensive of any dialysis program utilizing telemedicine at the moment (there are only two others currently), and since it does not require patients to furnish their own equipment, it means that income will not be a factor.

“This will put us up there with the most progressive home dialysis programs in the world,” Wallace explained. “We expect to have some sites up and running by July of 2015.”

The trial is critical in terms of determining whether or not telemedicine for PD will be sanctioned by Medicare in Alabama and by private insurance carriers. Twenty-eight other states, including Mississippi and Georgia, currently mandate that private carriers must cover telemedicine in a number of healthcare specialties.

“Alabama is not one of those 28 states, so virtually no telemedicine occurs in Alabama unless it’s for Medicare patients,” Wallace says. “Medicare is fairly progressive about covering telemedicine, but before it is implemented across the board in a meaningful way, private insurers have to buy in. This trial is a first step in that process.”

“It’s not always medically necessary for me to see them in person,” Wallace says. “This is potentially a way to export our super-subspecialties to the rest of Alabama and really make a difference. I’m hoping that others will piggyback off this and start recognizing the benefits of telemedicine, particularly for patients in remote areas.”