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GlobalMed touts telemedicine as weapon against Ebola outbreak

By Amanda Pedersen
Senior Staff Writer
Medical Device Daily

BioWorld Today, October 7, 2014

The most effective weapon against Ebola may be the use of telemedicine technology, according to Joel Barthelemy, CEO of GlobalMed (Scottsdale, Arizona), a firm that develops integrated telemedicine solutions for healthcare providers and corporate health programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed the first U.S. case of the virus, fueling concerns about the possible spread of the disease in the country. Barthelemy told Medical Device Daily that healthcare professionals should use telemedicine technology to physically separate potential Ebola victims from doctors and nurses.

Dallas health officials have reported that the man who is the first confirmed case of the Ebola virus in the U.S. had come into contact with more than a dozen people, including some school children, before he experienced symptoms. So far, none of them have shown signs of infection.

The man was evaluated and released from a Texas hospital and wasn’t treated until two days later when he was brought in by ambulance. “Unfortunately, symptoms in the early stages of the virus, when it is infectious, imitate a cold or the flu,” Barthelemy said. “So, in the worst scenario, if it begins to spread in our country, we may see people with Ebola, and those who think they have it, overwhelming hospital emergency departments and urgent cares.”

Even though Ebola spreads via contact with blood and body fluids, Barthelemy said every method available should be used to protect healthcare providers. “Until we have medications that arrest Ebola and have them in quantity, they are our last line of defense. If they come down with the virus, our healthcare system could be undermanned and overtaxed.”

Another very real concern, Roger Downey, a spokesman for GlobalMed, told MDD, in the event of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. “Let’s say mom and dad have a kid that develops a fever and they don’t know if that is Ebola or not,” Downey said. People with suspected ebola cases might start “jamming into the emergency rooms” and be put in a waiting area with other patients who may really have the virus.

Barthelemy noted that the VA healthcare system around the country is already seeing and treating patients using physicians in distant locations. “The same technology could be used to assess patients for Ebola and, if necessary, treat them,” he said.

Barthelemy also told MDD that as healthcare professionals have potential Ebola victims quarantined at home, video technology like GlobalMed’s could be used to help bring healthcare professionals to the patient from outside the quarantined area. Portable technology can be used with wireless devices such as stethoscopes, thermometers, and other devices that monitor patients’ vital signs, the information could go into a software solution and be seen by physicians off-site.

“We have to be careful that our healthcare workers don’t become carriers,” Barthelemy said. “This is not a run-of-the-mill flu virus. It’s extremely contagious when fluids are exchanged between people.”

He noted that in West Africa, healthcare workers are currently diagnosing five Ebola patients an hour.

According to Barthelemy, the U.S. is at least a decade behind the kind of healthcare it should have in place. “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid does not reimburse physicians who use telemedicine technologies in urban areas because of the fear that doctors would overuse them.” The reimbursement issue is the subject of a number of bills before Congress that would remove the geographical restrictions on payments for telemedicine visits, he noted.

Reimbursement is one of the primary reasons many physicians and hospitals have not already developed telemedicine programs, GlobalMed said. Most of the telemedicine visits occurring today happen between urban doctors and patients in rural and underserved areas because CMS reimburses them. “Now, who is perhaps most vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease?” Barthelemy asked. “People who live in urban areas.”

GlobalMed develops integrated telemedicine solutions for healthcare providers and corporate health programs, and the company’s technology is currently in use in Africa.

Telemedicine technology is one example of how med-tech can play a role in the efforts to address the Ebola outbreak. In August, Aethlon Medical (San Diego), reported that its device, the Hemopurifier, was created to provide a post-exposure treatment strategy to mitigate illness, suffering, and death resulting from exposure to viral pathogens. The company emphasized at that time, in response to a misleading story in the media, that the Hemopurifier is not a cure for Ebola (Medical Device Daily, Aug. 11, 2014).

“It is designed to augment the ability of the immune system to overcome infection to increase the benefit of drug therapy in disease conditions where an antiviral agent may be indicated,” said Jim Joyce, CEO/chairman of Aethlon.

Another company, Xenex (San Antonio), reported in August that its germ-zapping UV robots had been offered to Emory University (Atlanta) and the CDC to treat the hospital where the U.S. Ebola patients were treated and the airplanes that transported those patients.

The company’s Xenex robot is designed to prevent further spread by destroying all superbugs and pathogens that might be lurking in hospital rooms within minutes (MDD, Aug. 7, 2014).