"T elemedicine” is a word that sounds as if it came right out of a sci-fi movie. But Yulun Wang, UCSB alumnus and founder of InTouch Health in Goleta, is making this new medical field a reality.

Wang defines telemedicine as delivering health care via telecommunication when the clinician and patient are not in the same location. InTouch Health designs remote presence devices that allow doctors to perform real-time consultations with patients through robots.

“The problem with health care right now is that there is not consistent quality, and there are many people in the country that have limited access to health care,” Wang says. “Telemedicine is a way of enabling higher quality, consistent care that can be provided for everyone and can do so at a lower cost.”

The state of health care in the United States has been a hot topic, but Wang believes that telemedicine is a “cornerstone piece” to the solution.

“We are leading the world in terms of new technology development and new application development and how telemedicine can be used to take care of the patients,” Wang explains. “We are, in fact, involved in saving peoples’ lives on a daily basis.”

Wang claims that it is not always practical for clinicians to meet their patients face-to-face. While cynics may assert that technology is impersonal, Wang contends that telemedicine can actually help society return to a more personal distribution of medicine. Robots can improve delivery of services by making house calls and connecting patients to specialists across the nation.

“We don’t think of ourselves just as a communication tool—we see ourselves as providing the clinician an actual remote presence in another location,” Wang states.

Wang first became involved in telemedicine in 1997 after founding his first company, Computer Motion, which created surgical robots. In 2002 the company merged with its competitor, Intuitive Surgical. However, in 2001 Wang worked with renowned French surgeon Jacques Marescaux, who performed the world’s first telesurgery by operating on a Strasbourg patient’s gallbladder while in New York City

“That was my foray into telemedicine,” Wang says. “It got me thinking about combining robotics with telecommunications to project clinical expertise to another location.”

Although Wang’s career originates from an engineering background, his 20 years of experience in health care helps him understand issues around quality, cost, and access. Wang serves on boards of Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and the American Telemedicine Association

“The health care system is a very big, complex entity, consisting of 17 percent of the gross domestic product,” Wang elaborates. “My training as an engineer allows me to take big, complex problems and try to solve them.”

Prior to founding InTouch Health in 2002, Wang received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from UC Santa Barbara and taught at the university for a few years. He currently serves on the advisory boards for Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments.

“I feel very indebted to UCSB for the opportunities it’s given me,” Wang says. “UCSB has helped me [accomplish] whatever success I have achieved.”

Yulun wang

Wang’s Ph.D. advisor, now retired Professor Steve Butner, consults for InTouch Health and has been “very instrumental” in Wang’s career. Additionally, many of the employees at InTouch Health have been educated at UC Santa Barbara.

InTouch Health currently leads the market in acute care, helping patients who are very sick and need immediate attention from the right doctor. Wang states that the company’s competitors, such as video-conferencing or web-based companies, do not offer all the tools necessary for acute care.

“We are the only one who packages a complete solution for the kind of problems that we deal with,” Wang proudly says.

InTouch Health has made great strides in bettering care for stroke patients. By 2012, 11 percent of all U.S. hospitals had integrated InTouch Health technology into their systems. These hospitals include 13 of the top 40 neuroscience centers of excellence as defined by the U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 Best Hospitals for Neurology and Neurosurgery. In March 2013, InTouch Health announced at the 65th conference for the American Academy of Neurology that the InTouch Telemedicine System powers more than 60 percent of all U.S. TeleStroke networks. These networks save lives by giving patients at outlying hospitals immediate care. InTouch Health’s TeleStroke Solution provides immediate medical imaging and two-way audiovisual capabilities.

Wang takes great pride in the technology’s ability to improve quality while simultaneously lowering costs

“As TeleStroke continues to be adopted as a standard of care, our customers continue to expand into several more clinical applications where the unmet needs of the patient population are significant,” said Wang in a company press release dated March 19, 2013. “InTouch Health remains poised to lead the rapid adoption for acute care telemedicine.”

In the future, Wang would like to see telemedicine go from composing a small sliver of health care delivery to a primary method.

“[The technology] brings the right people there at the right time to do the right thing.”