Linking hospital to home
by Kristin Easterling

One of the buzzwords in health care right now is telemedicine. Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), says one of focuses for device designers is to create change in the market and improve access to health care. Read on to learn more about the mission of the ATA and how telemedicine is being applied across the health care spectrum.

The ATA was founded in 1995 with a membership that included a mix of health care administrators and providers, health care systems such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, and device manufacturers.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization has grown rapidly over its 22-year history, and is working on a new strategic plan to help more primary care providers be able to use telemedicine in practice. The organization also lobbies in Washington for telehealth parity legislation and access.

Telemedicine is applied to many areas of health care outside of the hospital, Linkous says, with the goal of providing service to those who need it most, such as patients with chronic conditions, who don’t want to spend their lives in the hospital.

Technology backs the services that doctors and others are able to provide. Telemedicine can make possible, for example, a patient to go back to work, because they can self-monitor and report how they feel, or someone with an illness to travel and monitor their vitals while on the road and transmit data to their provider.

Most technology today, Linkous says, records vitals and monitors improvement for patients in a disease state.

Marketing to Boomers

In the home health sector, many options are available for home monitoring and fall prevention for patients and their families.

Telemedicine and monitoring, Linkous says, are the way many agencies do business today. But, he adds it is important for any provider to ask, “Is the technology improving the life of the patient and quality of care we offer?”

Linkous is quick to point out that the aging market is not technology averse, but requires a trusted source before purchasing a telehealth device.

“Old products on the market were designed for the manufacturer and not the consumer, and the consumer had to be trained how to use the device,” Linkous says. This won’t work for the boomer generation. They are looking for products that won’t fall apart and are designed with them in mind; they use cell phones and the internet. But, Linkous adds, they are also concerned about privacy.

Devices today are less clunky and bulky than those first offered. Wearables such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit may not offer distinct medical monitoring to the consumer, but can integrate into new devices entering the medical space. Linkous points out the challenge for providers in the medical space is to provide real feedback for the patient, feedback that is beyond simple charts and graphs that say nothing about what to do with the information.

“What kind of advice are providers going to offer to empower the consumer that makes self-monitoring simple and convenient?” Linkous asks.

Advocacy

ATA advocates and educates on Capitol Hill on behalf of telemedicine providers. The Association closely monitors health care reform efforts in Congress.

The ATA, like many associations in health care, has watched the payer preference switch to value-based payments away from a fee-for-service model, and Linkous says he expects this model to be strengthened under the new administration. He believes telemedicine provides solutions for increasing providers’ abilities to provide better value to their patients.

At the state level, the ATA issues report cards evaluating states based on strides made to remove barriers to telemedicine access. In addition, the organization monitors parity legislation requiring private insurance to compensate telehealth services and in-office services equally.

Telehealth 2.0

Each year, the ATA hosts a conference called Telehealth 2.0 (ATA 2017), to provide education, training and networking opportunities to providers looking to transform their practices. ATA 2017 took place in Orlando, Florida, April 23–25.

This year’s conference was the largest conference to date with more than 6,000 in attendance and over 150 educational sessions. The show floor featured a special demonstration area called the Simulation Showcase where companies showcased the interoperability of technology in the ICU, the ER, the doctor’s office and the senior living facility. Attendees were able to schedule 15-minute tours of the area to view some of the latest innovations in telemedicine.

One spotlight session for attendees on Monday was the Women in Telehealth panel, featuring five female industry leaders. According to Linkous, the panel was long overdue, as the Association’s first president, Jane A. Preston, was a woman. One goal of the panel and combined networking reception was to bring awareness to the role of women in the many health care fields and to produce new and unique perspectives. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for the AARP, moderated the panel.

For ATA, telemedicine is about using technology to reach people in need around the world. The Association recognizes nonprofits and individuals every year that are doing this through an award called “The Human Touch,” a humanitarian award. This year, the Association recognized musician Carlos Santana and his Milagro Foundation’s Santana Telehealth Project for using technology to bring pediatric services to a small hospital in rural Mexico. “We have many board members bringing these services to places around the world,” Linkous said. “The Human Touch award recognizes these people. It reminds us how we save lives with this technology.”

Plans are already in the works for ATA 2018 in Chicago on April 29–May 1, 2018. With interest in technology growing for health care every day, the American Telemedicine Association is likely to stay busy. As Linkous said, “I believe the future is bright.”