Last week I attended Telehealth 2.0, the world’s largest telehealth conference, hosted by the American Telemedicine Association in Orlando. It was a great learning experience for me. Between the expert presentations and what I learned at the exhibit booths, I have a much different perspective on the telehealth market. One major point made repeatedly during the week is that the telehealth market is hard. When you think about it, a new vendor on the market needs to sell its vision to patients, doctors, nurses, clinicians, hospital administrators, distributors, integrators, insurance companies, and politicians. While insurance coverage of telehealth is on the rise, it is still an added element for any bring-to-market strategy.
The good news is that all parties are onboard. Patients and healthcare providers are sold on the added convenience and greater access of telehealth services, while insurance companies understand that covering virtual visits results in healthier patients and lower costs in the long run. It was also great to see so many uses for telehealth programs beyond the basic virtual visit. For example, I learned about a study where thousands of ER patients were sent a series of follow up text messages to encourage healthly behavior modifications in regards to their reason for visiting the ER. The results showed much lower rates of return to the ER. In fact, compared to the control group, the program was shown to have actually saved a significant number of lives. This program didn’t leverage very complicated or expensive technology, yet it demonstrated the amazing potential of remote healthcare. It also proved that telemedicine isn’t just a treatment tool, but can be a powerful method of positive behavior modification by encouraging/supporting/motivating healthy habits.
Keynotes and Sessions
All of the keynotes were impressive, entertaining, and educational. However, I was particularly struck by some of the points made by former congressman, Patrick Kennedy. He is a leading advocate for mental healthcare and shared his personal and family experiences with mental illness in a way that helped explain the hurdles and issues his movement has faced.
Kennedy sponsored the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires insurance companies to treat mental health issues like any other physical illness. Before this, mental health was often viewed as a personal failing rather than a treatable illness, which prevented people from seeking and obtaining the help they needed. It amazed me that by changing perception, we changed the way people get covered and treated, again resulting in literal lives saved. Kennedy also shared some interesting examples of how telehealth can be uniquely applied to the mental health community. For example, an app could use the GPS in your phone to see if you are spending less time at the gym and more time at the liquor store and give you a notification to go see your doctor or sponsor.
The sessions were very different from what I am used to in the business collaboration world. In particular, there was a lot more data. A UC seminar may have some user survey results, while an ATA session tended to share incredibly detailed results from years of massive patient studies. Perhaps I should have expected it. After all, I am well aware that the telehealth community has been an early adopter of video, remote data capture, etc. Healthcare was quick to see the value and potential of the technologies that support these solutions and as a result, were the first to really test them. It is notable that we are far beyond the days of pilot programs, as many of the studies shared were of massive full scale implementations of telehealth solutions. In other words, telehealth remains ahead of the curve when it comes to verticals in our space.
Booth Visits and Vendor Briefings
One of the panels I attended suggested a categorization of the telehealth solutions on display in the Exhibit hall. Roughly, you can break up the solutions into the following four groups. While there were too many vendors to brief with everyone, I did managed to check out those listed below.
Monitors and Data Collection Devices:
There were countless gadgets, many of which could collect a surprising array of biometrics and data. References to Star Trek’s “tricorder” were frequent, but apt. As these devices collect more and more accurate information, the value of remote consultations increases. Please note, many of these devices are supported by a cloud service.
Robots and Carts:
Perhaps one of the first images that comes to mind for telehealth is the video enabled cart or robot. This category of solution basically upgrades the virtual (video) visit by giving the remote practitioner mobility and some diagnostic tools.
Software, Services, Platforms and Networks:
With all of this data being collected, and all of these patients meeting their practitioners over video, the software supporting these interactions have to become more and more sophisticated. The video must be reliable and high quality. Advanced networking and data management is crucial, whether we are talking about connecting a patient for an immediate video consult over the web, or collecting the audio from a stethoscope via bluetooth and recording it to that patient’s file.
- Advanced ICU Care
- Doctor On Demand
- Vivify Health
Some of the larger presences at the show do all of the above. From building their own robots and devices, to supporting their own underlying services.
In my opinion, one of the highlights of the event was the Simulation Showcase. Please see this release for full details on the program and its sponsors. Basically, there were four areas mocked up to look like a typical ER room, ICU, assisted living space, and doctor’s office. Then, actors went from area to area, role-playing a couple going through typical healthcare situations (getting sick on vacation, etc.), and using telehealth solutions to get treatment that might not otherwise be available. While the demos at the booths in general were certainly convincing, seeing these solutions used in their full context in this simulation really made a powerful case for their value and readiness for mass deployments.