Telemedicine program may help UF Health Jacksonville save money

by: Samuel King Updated:

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville is exploring telemedicine to save money on employee health care costs. The proposal calls for UF Health Jacksonville to set up special areas inside city hall and other buildings.

Between payments to UF Health and employee costs, the city is spending about 10 percent of its budget on health care. Telemedicine, the electronic transfer of patient information from one site to another, is part of the effort to help shore up UF Health’s financial picture while saving taxpayer money.

Yolanda Copeland lives just blocks from UF Health -- it's one of the reasons she moved to her Springfield home. But she knows the facility suffers from an image problem.

“People don't want to go (to) the hospital of last resort. But it's a teaching hospital, the University of Florida has attached their name to it so I think with that said, it's probably pretty reputable,” Copeland said.

The city is hoping to spread that message to its employees. Action News has followed the special council committee that examined the relationship between the city and UF Health. Chair Matt Schellenberg said one of the committee's recommendations is using incentives to encourage employees to use UF Health.

“UF Health is willing to do that. Lower the premiums, lower deductibles to encourage people to use their facilities,” Schellenberg said.

Schellenberg also said officials are also looking at installing small clinics at city hall and possibly the jail that would use telemedicine. He said Cisco has already committed software and computers to help. 

“I think if you're looking at saving time, money, quality of life, not being off the job, I think all of these things are to the benefit of the city as well as the employees, as well as the taxpayers, which is the goal,” Schellenberg said.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget plan also contains an additional $2.5 million in direct payments to UF Health, bringing the total to about $28 million. Copeland believes the efforts are worth it, if those efforts keep the hospital around.

“If this is the hospital of last resort and if this is the city of Jacksonville, what choice does the city have except for it (to) contribute more funds?” she asked.

The city could start a pilot program within the next couple of months. Jacksonville would be the 10th city in the U.S. to use such a program.

Officials tell Action News that extra money to UF Health would come with some conditions to protect taxpayers.