VA testing high-fidelity videoconferencing

The Veterans Affairs Department is evaluating how high-fidelity videoconferencing could support the agency’s missions and better serve veterans.

VA has launched a pilot project using AT&T’s TelePresence Solution, which combines the company’s Multiprotocol Label Switching global networking capabilities and Cisco Systems’ TelePresence technology.

“We have under way our first generation of what we are referring to as the Enterprise Video Teleconferencing Network,” said David Cheplick, director of VA’s Office of Telecommunications. He spoke earlier this week during a demonstration of the AT&T TelePresence Solution that linked participants in AT&T and Cisco offices in Herndon, Va., Indianapolis and Washington.

VA officials want to extend the capability to let clinicians have real-time sessions with veterans or family members who are not able to travel to a major medical center. Instead, patients could go to a local outpatient clinic, where they could communicate with a clinician at another location via videoconferencing, Cheplick said.

A high-fidelity system such as AT&T’s TelePresence could also play a role in real-time medical collaboration, Cheplick said. For instance, clinicians could provide consultations or learn various skills by watching other physicians perform surgery remotely.

VA has a designated TelePresence room set up at a medical center in Orlando, Fla. The agency plans to create a second site at VA headquarters in Washington so officials can evaluate how TelePresence might be used to serve administrative and clinical applications.

A complementary technology

Rather than replacing existing systems, TelePresence’s capabilities could be part of a portfolio of technologies that VA would use to achieve its missions, Cheplick said.

TelePresence “would be at the very high end. We’re not looking at this as a one-to-one replacement but hope it takes [videoconferencing] to a higher level,” said Don Herring, president of AT&T Government Solutions.

The AT&T TelePresence Solution includes equipment, installation, full monitoring and management, remote help-desk service, and on-site equipment maintenance and repair. It runs on AT&T’s Private Network Transport. Three-screen and one-screen site options are available, based on Cisco TelePresence Systems 3200, 3000, 1000 and 500.

Agencies can buy the AT&T system through the General Services Administration’s Schedule 70 contracts or Networx, which would require modifications to that contract vehicle, Herring said. Agencies can also buy the system outside those contracts, he added.

VA’s videoconferencing pilot will run throughout the year, Cheplick said, and the resulting recommendations will be available in fiscal 2011.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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