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WorldCare expands telemedicine network with hospital consortium


WorldCare expands telemedicine network with hospital consortiumLuminary sites to read images from around the worldFour major U.S. medical centers have signed on with telemedicine services provider WorldCare to export their specialty

WorldCare expands telemedicine network with hospital consortium

Luminary sites to read images from around the world

Four major U.S. medical centers have signed on with telemedicine services provider WorldCare to export their specialty expertise worldwide. A five-year agreement between the Cambridge, MA-based company and a consortium composed of Duke University, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins University was finalized last month. Each member of the consortium now holds a 3% to 7% interest in WorldCare, in return for making its medical specialists available to WorldCare customers around the globe.

"We pay the consortium members on a fixed-fee basis, depending on the procedure or clinical study," said Charles Stolper, WorldCare CFO. "Each has become a shareholder in WorldCare. We sold them shares against services rendered over the next five years."

WorldCare, a subsidiary of WellCare Holdings of the Netherlands, was established as American Telemedicine by Massachusetts General Hospital in 1990. The company was acquired by WellCare in October 1995 and changed its name to WorldCare in 1996. Internationally, the company's primary business is second-opinion consultations; in the U.S., its focus is teleradiology.

Prior to finalizing the consortium agreement, WorldCare had developed working relationships with each of the four sites, including links to WorldCare's Global Telemedicine Network. At the heart of that network is TeleManager, a proprietary rules-based telemedicine information system that manages the acquisition, distribution, and viewing of information between sites. The software can handle both store-and-forward and interactive video and incorporates wavelet data compression technology licensed from Aware of Bedford, MA. TeleManager can be linked over conventional or digital phone lines, wireless communications, or ATM networks.

"Our entire business is currently done on a store-and-forward basis," Stolper said. "We do not feel that, at this time, there is a market for interactive video."

Through WorldCare's International Medical division, doctors at remote sites can use the company's telemedicine network to obtain second opinions from subspecialists at consortium medical centers. Patient management consultations are transmitted to the WorldCare network hub in Cambridge, where trained healthcare professionals forward the medical data to a specialist at one of the consortium medical centers for diagnosis. A second opinion is transmitted back to the requesting physician within 48 hours for standard cases and two to four hours for emergencies.

"Our agreement with the consortium is that, unless sending sites specifically request a particular facility, we rotate the cases among each of them," Stolper said. "Each consortium member is fully competent in all specialty areas. We do not want to be in a position on the network itself where we are making medical judgments."

The company carries that same philosophy into each of its international telemedicine relationships. The company's most recent overseas customer is in Malaysia, where a joint venture among WorldCare, Tongkah Holdings Bhd of Kuala Lumpur, Mitsubishi of Japan, and the Saudi Arabian investment firm Concorde Investments will bring American medical expertise to Malaysian hospitals via the Internet. Tongkah and WorldCare will each hold 30% of the new company, to be known as WorldCare Health Malaysia; Concorde will hold 25% and Mitsubishi 15%. The network will collect medical cases from doctors at sites across the country and transmit the information to a hub that will be linked to specialist hospitals in Malaysia.

"Our philosophy in foreign markets is to partner with local interests in each country so we have the proper access," Stolper said. "WorldCare sells international telemedicine capabilities, then the ventures set up their own intracountry networks."

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