Upswing in telemedicine market attracts vendor interest

July 8, 2001

Propelled by a favorable reimbursement climate, the telemedicine market is on the move, attracting new vendors and users. Many newcomers represent teleradiology and PACS companies with Web-based products for image transmission and archiving.“The

Propelled by a favorable reimbursement climate, the telemedicine market is on the move, attracting new vendors and users. Many newcomers represent teleradiology and PACS companies with Web-based products for image transmission and archiving.

“The two biggest trends we’re seeing in terms of growth within the organization are in teleradiology/PACS companies and in vendors of patient monitoring equipment,” said Jonathan Linkous, executive director of the 1600-member American Telemedicine Association.

For years, the telemedicine industry was peopled by videoconferencing companies, vendors of medical device peripherals, and telephone companies. Teleradiology vendors, with larger venues in which to display their products, have not traditionally been part of the telemedicine community.

Of all telemedicine applications, however, teleradiology is the most mature and robust, due in part to its status as a reimburseable service by Medicare and private payers. Typically, hospitals embarking on a telemedicine program start first with teleradiology and branch out. Nationally, teleradiology volume easily exceeds 500,000 images transmitted annually, according to Dr. Mark Goldberg, a radiologist and past president of the ATA.

Recognizing the opportunity, the ATA has made a special effort to bring teleradiology and PACS companies into its fold, Linkous said. The gambit is just beginning to pay off. This spring, the organization attracted support from GE Medical Systems, which paid $5000 to join the ATA’s “president’s circle,” an upper-echelon division of the association’s industry advisory board.

GE has also pledged to assist the ATA in its efforts to eliminate interstate licensure requirements for teleradiology and telemedicine, Linkous said. Twenty-six states have laws regulating out-of-state telemedicine practitioners.

In addition to GE, exhibitors at the ATA’s sixth annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale in June included Hologic, Fuji, DeJarnette, Agfa, InSiteOne, MedWeb, Radiographic Digital Imaging, and Eastman Kodak, which is also a member of the ATA’s president’s circle. The meeting attracted 2000 attendees, an increase of 400 from the previous year, and 110 exhibitors.

“The ATA does a great job of promoting access to medical care through telecommunications technology,” said Paul Dandrow, vice president of business development at InSiteOne, which provides off-site digital image storage and archiving services.

The company saw the ATA show as an opportunity to showcase its combined expertise in information technology and healthcare, he said.

With new reimbursement legislation for telemedicine set to take effect Oct. 1, hospitals are increasingly interested in providing the service, Linkous said. The legislation, incorporated in the combined budget bill passed in December, substantially improves existing Medicare coverage for telemedicine and expands rural service areas where providers are eligible to receive it. Two other bills seeking to expand the payment rules to apply to providers in metropolitan areas are being debated in Congress, Linkous said.

“We are seeing real momentum now,” he said. “It is just a question of how much, how fast.