The Charité University Hospital, part of Berlin University, has opened a centre for cardiovascular telemedicine that will carry out research and provide services to patients.
It is the first academic telemedicine centre in Germany to support a full 24/7 call-centre service.
Until now German telemedicine projects have mainly used the commercial call-centres of telemedicine providers, such as PHTS or Vitaphone.
The new centre will carry out clinical research on telemedicine for cardiovascular patients, and act as a telemedicine call-centre for patients on home monitoring programmes.
Located within one of the hospital’s main buildings, the centre initially has 15 employees, including five medical doctors.
“Charité is planning to become a leading academic player in the field of telemedicine”, said the managing director of the university hospital, Detlev Ganten.
He said that the hospital was already engaged in international telemedicine consultations, for example as the academic centre of excellence for the telepathology network of the International Union Against Cancer, and as a telemedicine partner of Shanghai University Hospital. To open its own call centre was the next logical step, said Ganten.
The first big project at the new centre began a few weeks ago with the ‘Partnership for the Heart’ project, a clinical study on telemonitoring for patients with chronic heart failure. “We managed to recruit 600 patients in three months”, said Friedrich Köhler, a cardiologist and the medical director of the centre.
The ‘Partnership for the Heart’ project aims to show a reduction in mortality rates and hospital admissions for heart failure patients, due to the assistance of telemedicine.
“Unlike other telemedicine studies in heart failure, this one is designed according to the criteria for an FDA approval. If successful, telemedicine in heart failure patients will finally be reimbursed on a regular basis within the German public insurance system”, said Köhler. This would be a major breakthrough, since it would mean that every doctor with heart failure patients could issue a “prescription for telemedicine”.
Long-term funding for the Charité telemedicine centre has yet to be secured. Currently the centre has €6m, supplied by the ministry of economy and the three industrial backers of the ‘Partnership for the Heart’ project: ICW, Robert Bosch, and Aipermon. The money will last until 2009, when the ‘Partnership for the Heart’ project ends.
“Afterwards the centre will raise money from different sources”, deputy-group leader Stephanie Lücke told E-Health Europe.
As the centre will function as a call-centre it can generate income from health insurance companies. On top of this, further clinical and technical research projects are in the pipeline, which would attract funding from industry, politics or other donors. Finally, Charité Hospital itself is paying the doctors and providing the location.
“One of the next projects will be a clinical study for telemonitoring in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia”, said Köhler. These women need blood pressure and CTG monitoring. Using telemonitoring, most of this could be done at home with a neonatologist checking the data online.
Another field of interest is congenital heart disease. Effected children often need close monitoring in order to identify the best opportunity for a cardiac operation. Telemonitoring in diabetics, and in patients with arterial hypertension, is also on the agenda for the future.