BY: ROZ BEN-CHITRIT
Published in www.handsontelehealth.com, June 11, 2013
Record attendance at last month’s American Telemedicine Association conference points to the fact that interest in telehealth/telemedicine/mHealth is rising rapidly.
Why is that?
What’s driving people to look into telehealth now versus pushing it off like they used to?
To shed light on these questions, our regular contributing expert Roz Ben-Chitrit roamed the ATA Exhibit Hall and spoke with exhibitors to get their unique perspectives on the growing interest in telehealth and existing challenges.
Hopefully, you’ll see some common (and unique) perspectives as you hear from such diverse companies as Care Innovations, Computerized Screening, , i-Optics, NuVIEW Health, VSee, and many more.
A View from the Floor at ATA
This was my first year attending the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) annual meeting.
Aside from the sessions and networking events, I had the opportunity to interview over a dozen leaders of exhibitor companies to get a sense of their thoughts about the market.
I identified companies from small start-ups to established, ongoing firms.
Some provide services, others develop technology platforms, while others are in the hardware space.
Despite the diversity of the interview group, it was telling that there were common themes across all areas, perhaps with a slightly different perspective from time to time, but generally, all similar.
Without exception, each interviewee was excited about the prospects in the market, and felt there are great opportunities – despite challenges that they may be facing – for their firms and for the market overall.
Vesta Brue, CEO of MedSignals put it well when she described her own company in a manner that reflected what I heard from others: “It’s taken us a decade to be an overnight success.”
I asked 3 questions, although we often went down other paths of interest. The questions asked for:
- observations about the market in terms of sales and/or interest in the adoption of products and services,
- identification of outside influences that are believed to be impacting interest levels and/or adoption of telehealth (positive and negative), and
- perceived challenges to telehealth.
Perspectives from exhibitors of home-based telehealth solutions
Several companies I spoke to offer services to “at risk” providers like hospitals that lose reimbursement or get penalized when they have readmissions. Here are some of the highlights from those companies:
Mark Aspenson, CEO of Avery Telehealth – Telehealth is a “very exciting place…demographics don’t lie and the labor pool won’t be big enough [to take care of everyone face-to-face]…technology will have to play an integral role.”
Avery Telehealth has created a program that guarantees a 30% reduction in readmissions, and they are showing results that make their clients very happy.
Even with risk stratification (where high cost patients are enrolled), Avery has seen excellent outcomes.
Ray Solone, Global Director of Marketing, Care Innovations – The movement “away from ‘pilot-itis'” is an exciting change in the market.
We’re “on a great path…getting ready to move to the growth phase… which is where you see the ROI.”
Everything from Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalties, a more technology savvy population, and the need to realign how populations are managed is driving the market.
Biggest challenges include organizations budgeting for telehealth and having the ability to “right size” projects for the problems that need solving.
Chris Taylor, VP of Commercial Sales, Cardiocom – The last 18 months have really changed the dynamics in the market, with influences like the ACA and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) driving the change.
“Organizations that have invested in telehealth are now invited to sit at the adult table,” he said, referring to their now being taken seriously as important parts of the solution.
One challenge he stressed was interoperability – sharing data is necessary, but there’s still a lot of “proprietary-ness” about data.
Kevin Quinn, Senior VP, AMC Health noted that interest in the service has been growing over the last 5 years.
AMC’s core market of home care organizations and at-risk IDN’s have an increased familiarity with the services they offer, but there’s still hesitation about the value of the services.
Outside drivers – like those mentioned by others, but also including decreasing technology costs – help the market grow.
Quinn added that one challenge lies in re-engaging those who were early adopters but who got burned.
Sunil Hazaray, Chief Commercial Officer, Authentidate – This company is seeing explosive growth in its product and service offerings.
He says growth can be attributed to the ACA and the drive toward ACOs.
But people are living longer with chronic illness, which is a more organic demand driver, and technology “helps fill the void of caregivers.”
Industry challenges include standardization so data can be transfered from one system to another.
Simplifying user interfaces and making them convenient is also critical before telehealth is embraced wholeheartedly.
Perspectives from exhibitors of telehealth connectivity solutions
For those companies in the business of providing the connectivity and technology behind telemedicine, there is strong growth.
Amnon Gavish, SVP of Vertical Solutions, Vidyo – From expansion of telehealth solutions in disciplines that don’t require a physical exam (i.e. telepsychiatry) to monitoring home-bound patients, there are more opportunities to take advantage of the technology.
Also, says Gavish, integrating telemedicine into the workflow saves time and becomes de rigeur for monitoring progress, population management, and preventive health…all critical to ACOs and other outside influences.
Milton Chen, CEO of VSee – This start up is excited about how interest in their technology has “skyrocketed” and that people are buying.
They believe that simplifying the technology and reducing the IT work and infrastructure enables users to focus on the clinical workflow, and improve patient care and service.
Chen said that the challenge is in “changing the paradigm.”
He quipped that it’s important to let doctors provide care rather than making them into IT people.
Perspectives from providers of specialized telehealth services
Some companies provide specialized service offerings that may include hardware or have more focused perspectives on their segment of the market. Among those at the ATA, include:
Bryan Ludwig, Executive VP, NuVIEW Health – Telemedicine in some acute care realms, like the ICU, have grown over the years and there is a feeling that “the industry is at an inflection point.”
Three drivers contributing to the growth in the industry are:
- focus on value-based care, making healthcare delivery more efficient by providing the appropriate care at the appropriate time by the most effective means
- hospital transparency regarding outcomes
- the physician shortage
The biggest challenge is changing the paradigm in the acute care setting to enhance the delivery model, while improving care and reducing costs.
Brooke Westlake, VP of Sales, Computerized Screening, Inc. – There is increased interest in her company’s kiosk health stations, which help people manage chronic conditions, like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in employment or retail settings.
They find that people are embracing change and new ways to get care.
“Greater access is one of the major benefits to telemedicine and products like ours” and the company sees no significant roadblocks to their growth.
Perspectives from telehealth start-ups
Newcomers to the field included 2 start-ups with tangible products for diagnosis on the one hand and patient management on the other.
Steve Morris, VP North America, i-Optics – The company entered the US market in 2009 with its portable EasyScan retinal imaging product.
Challenges that face the company are mostly reimbursement-related, but they remain bullish on the telehealth market.
He believes that ACOs and IDNs will drive the use of the product because it reduces bad patient outcomes and ultimately lowers costs for at-risk providers.
“Even with all the challenges, we’re moving in the right direction…because early intervention works.”
Larry Tusick, VP Business Development, iRx Reminder – The company’s medication reminder and data management system is currently focused on supporting clinical trials.
“The current healthcare system has to change. The wolf is at the door…technology is a big savior.”
They believe that new models of care that arise from any change will result in individuals controlling their own health through technology and “will be the lowest cost and the best outcome.”
The Bottom Line
Most of the companies I spoke with feel that outside influences, like the ACA and the push to expand ACOs and other at-risk models of healthcare finance are dramatically improving the prospects for the telehealth market.
Other positive drivers include the reduced cost of technology and people’s comfort level with communication devices.
But there are risks and negative drivers, too.
- Financially, reimbursement challenges persist, but there was less concern about that than I had anticipated.
- Operationally, licensure issues continue to cause problems for some.
- Technically, ensuring interoperability between systems and simplifying systems to make them easy to use must be addressed by product developers.
The opportunities are great and the risks are mostly easy to overcome…or will be with concerted effort from all corners of the industry.
Judging from what my interviewees told me, I predict a rosy future for telemedicine.
Roz Ben-Chitrit is managing director of Sanford Rose Associates’ telehealth/mHealth recruitment practice. To learn more about career opportunities or talent searches in telehealth/mHealth, contact Sanford Rose Associates’ recruitment practice at http://www.sanfordrose.com/ct.
You can also contact Roz Ben-Chitrit at email@example.com