(San Jose, April 30) ATA 2012 opened Monday morning with a survey of the scope and potential of the telemedicine market moderated by Linda Boles, Cisco Chief Strategist, US Public Sector Healthcare Innovation. The expert panel played to a packed ballroom at the San Jose Convention Center complex.
Key insight number one: telemedicine technology is maturing fast, but we’re only beginning to see its many applications – and new use cases have the capacity to surprise. Cisco, for example, expected growth in pediatric and correctional healthcare, but not the adoption we’ve seen in continuing medical education and corporate communications.
Key insight number two: it’s a consumer-led transformation. Patients, the panel heard, take directions and do as they’re told. Consumers have choice and power. That suggests all of healthcare is on the brink of dramatic, structural transformation.
Boles’ co-panelist Harry Kim, Hewlett-Packard’s senior director, worldwide healthcare, estimated the global market opportunity at a conservative $10 billion. But he cautioned that many analysts’ numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, because so many are based on a “rear-view mirror” view of the market. Kim said up to 40 percent of today’s medical encounters can be done more efficiently using telemedicine technology, but less than one percent actually are.
Another panelist, Jasper zu Putlitz MD, president of Bosch Health Care, called it a “confusing market” that sometimes frustrates adoption – precisely because the opportunities and forecasts are so disparate. “I am looking at telehealth on one side then telecare on the other. Then there’s teleconsultation, where you connect providers. With telehealth we’re at the end of the beginning. But it’s really, really promising.”
The panel agreed that:
• The industry doesn’t have a technology problem – but challenges adopting and sustaining it.
• Telehealth solutions have to be embedded into health care system redesign. It cannot be laid on top of existing processes.
• It’s not a US-centric discussion. In the US the focus is always on cost and efficiency; elsewhere the priority tends to be patient access. Look for instructive telemedicine innovations to bubble up from smaller “laboratory countries” whose models differ from ours.
Boles agreed with the panel that healthcare information exchanges overseas run far ahead of those we see in the States.
Harry Kim used an airplane metaphor: we can all build excellent airplanes, he said, but until airports and air traffic controllers are built as well – and a reliable operating environment results – it is harder for airlines to prosper. (After the Wright brothers, he added, the needed infrastructure took decades longer!)
Two last, intriguing points from the morning.
One, consumers are expected to create demand for “anytime, anywhere” healthcare delivered from many sources via many channels – including mobile. The coming continuum of health care delivery models, enabled by telehealth technology, will challenge the status quo understanding of the system.
Two, the industry has to “follow outcomes.” Which technologies change outcomes? The better we understand what leads to better health care outcomes, the bigger the flood of new operating models that answer that question.
Boles hosted a concise, invigorating morning. In a Q-and-A session she was asked if the ATA itself can help promote understanding that leads to more telemedicine adoption. Boles replied that “I think you’ll see a lot of blog coverage coming out of ATA 2012” – starting here!