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Positive buzz at ATA show

LOS ANGELES — The American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) annual meeting and trade show came barely a month after the raucous, sprawling health IT industry-wide must-attend show HIMSS 2015.

The mostly sunny, laid-back setting for the ATA confab this year underscored how different in style and scale the telemedicine gathering was compared to HIMSS 2015, which was held in gritty Chicago this time around.

HIMSS brings together all the sometimes fractious tribes of health IT — from EHR vendors and users to health data security firms and government regulators.  The ATA conference, not surprisingly, focuses on a still fairly narrow, but nevertheless important, niche.

On the show floor in L.A., the dominant buzz was quiet seriousness of purpose as opposed to HIMSS’ frantic, loud atmosphere. Of course, this year’s HIMSS event drew some 43,000 attendees, and ATA about 4,000.

That low-key but intense vibe meshes with the dedication people in the telemedicine services field have for their technology. Telemedicine advocates hold their commitment of necessity.

Their passion for telemedicine is also undergirded by strong belief in telemedicine’s amply demonstrated power to bring healthcare to the underserved in remote, rural communities and also to patients in urban settings without easy access to specialists or even decent primary care.

The industry has been around for a couple of decades, but it is slow-growing. That is in large part because of the legal and regulatory hurdles telemedicine has to overcome to be considered the equal of in-person healthcare, but also because telemedicine has struggled to make inroads with consumers who are still used to seeing their doctors face to face in three dimensions.

But these days, telemedicine, while not exactly enjoying boom times, is making notable progress. More and more states are approving laws mandating parity with brick and mortar medicine in terms of government reimbursement to providers, and the videoconferencing technology that so many telemedicine providers rely upon has matured.

Now, as video vendors such as and Zoom  Video Communications, Inc. demonstrated with startling clarity on the show floor at ATA, the technology to make virtual doctor’s visits is now almost transparent.

In contrast to the herky-jerky, prone-to-crashing video linkups of yore, clear, reliable two-way video is available on nearly any mobile device and with a wide range of cameras, from tiny laptop-mounted ones to consumer grade video cameras to professional quality rigs.

One major challenge for the telemedicine industry, as a panel at the show focused on, is bringing entertainment industry quality programming standards to telemedicine.