Interest in e-health boosting telehealth products and apps

May 31, 2000

Interest in e-health boosting telehealth products and apps Telemedicine shows renewed spirit at ATA meeting Boosted by advances in Internet-based health services and applications, the telemedicine industry has found new momentum,

Interest in e-health boosting telehealth products and apps

Telemedicine shows renewed spirit at ATA meeting

Boosted by advances in Internet-based health services and applications, the telemedicine industry has found new momentum, attracting a record number of attendees and commercial exhibitors to the fifth annual American Telemedicine Association meeting May 21-24 in Phoenix. Some 90 exhibitors arrived at the ATA this year armed with new products to demonstrate to the 1500 participants and attendees. Five years ago, at the ATA’s first meeting, only a handful of companies exhibited their wares, mostly videoconferencing technologies. This year, exhibitor offerings ranged from Web-based services for clinical transactions to telemedicine peripherals, image management programs, multimedia software, and home-care devices.

“The state of telemedicine is vibrant,” said Dr. Mark Goldberg, ATA president, during the meeting’s opening session.

The ATA and others contend that 2000 could be telemedicine’s take-off year. In addition to commercial interest, increases in telemedicine usage (as gauged by transaction volumes) also indicate industry growth, Goldberg said. Teleradiology volume easily exceeds 500,000 images transmitted annually, although hard numbers are elusive because, although the service is reimbursed by the Health Care Financing Administration, the agency does not track volume. Moreover, an estimated 75,000 telemedicine consultations (not including teleradiology) were conducted in 1999, up from 52,000 in 1998, according to the Association of Telehealth Service Providers, which publishes the findings of an annual survey of telemedicine programs.

These figures are easily eclipsed by the telemedicine experience reported by the Veterans Affairs Health System, however. The VA conducted 244,000 telemedicine consultations in 1998, the most recent statistics available, 70% of which were radiology consultations. The remaining 73,000 were primarily in emergency room situations.

Another market driver is e-health. The voracious interest of consumers in obtaining medical information online has been a boon to the telemedicine industry, said Goldberg, who sees the trend as a natural extension of the industry’s goals.

“Telemedicine is about delivering care,” he said. “Right now, e-health is primarily about content, but it will evolve toward care as well. Through the Internet, telemedicine is converging with other healthcare informatics activities.”

Policy-making continues to be critical to telemedicine adoption. Foremost among new bills being considered is S 2050, the Telemedicine Improvement and Modernization Act of 2000, introduced just a few weeks ago by Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-VT). The bill seeks to revise aspects of the existing law under which HCFA provides reimbursement for select telemedicine services. Considered a landmark victory when passed, the original bill nonetheless has flaws that telemedicine advocates have sought to redress since its implementation in January 1999.

Specifically, the Jeffords bill would eliminate the provider “fee sharing” requirement that currently exists, whereby consulting physicians and specialists in a telemedicine encounter must split reimbursement on a 75%/25% basis. The bill would also allow facilities to apply for limited reimbursement intended to recoup costs of providing telemedicine services.

Other important provisions include expansion of reimbursement eligibility to all clinicians in all geographic areas. The current bill limits telemedicine payments to physicians, and only to those in federally defined health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Last but not least, the Jeffords bill would allow healthcare organizations to use Medicare home-health subsidies to provide telemedicine-mediated home care.

If the bill is passed, the latter provision alone is expected to fuel dramatic growth in telemedicine use and equipment purchases. Technologies that healthcare providers can use to stretch available resources while maintaining quality of care represent the home-health Holy Grail. Medicare expenditures for home healthcare have increased exponentially, from $2 billion in 1995 to $16 billion in 1998.

Interest in home health was reflected at the ATA meeting both in the scientific sessions and the exhibit hall. New commercial faces at the ATA meeting included:

  • Kodak, promoting its launch into the home-health arena with its Life View Care Station, a two-way monitoring system that transmits data and video over phone lines (PNN 3/00);

  • IMED, which previewed a home-health vital signs monitoring kit; and

  • Nova Technology, which featured its digital probe used to noninvasively measure the biocharacteristics of skin for teledermatology applications.

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