Last year, SearchHealthIT covered its first American Telemedicine Association (ATA) meeting, after running into telemedicine pioneer and ATA president emeritus Jay Sanders, M.D. at a 2010 conference in D.C. – and his amazingly upbeat evangelism for the telehealth-care niche drew us to this gathering of telemedicine providers.
The meeting, held in Tampa last year and in San Jose next week, didn’t disappoint. Turns out Sanders wasn’t an outlier; the ATA is loaded with tireless crusaders for technology-driven health care. It was much smaller than HIMSS, and seemingly less vendor-driven and more collegial.
There’s a reason for that: From the moment Sanders and colleague Ken Bird, M.D. launched telemedicine with a microwave line in 1967 to transmit television images across Boston in order to more efficiently treat patients, telemedicine has gotten the short end of the stick in reimbursements and in some practitioners’ eyes, legitimacy.
But in the coming health care ecosystem of accountable care organizations – or whatever payment model will replace the fee-for-service morass the current U.S. health care system has grown into – that will likely change. Payers, governments, employers and patients are all searching for ways to more efficiently hook up patients – especially in rural areas – with the specialists and subspecialists they need. Technology’s evolving to the point where live HD video isn’t relegated to Star Trek and The Jetsons. Service providers are laying broadband pipes to create infrastructure to support all this potential health care.
While no one knows exactly which new payment model currently in development will eventually win out and dominate U.S. health care, one thing’s for certain: Telemedicine has to play a more significant role in administering patient care than ever before. The rapid adoption of mHealth applications – cousins of telemedicine or its child, depending on where you stand in health care – will also bolster the acceptance of telemedicine among payers and traditional hospitals who might have previously resisted implementing telemedicine services.
All that being said, it’s a great time to bust out of New England and headed to ATA. Stay tuned for our blanket coverage of the show.