Q&A: UCLA's Molly Coye takes stock of the telemedicine landscape

The chief innovation officer for UCLA's health network will be interviewing Mercy Health CEO Lynn Britton during Sunday's Opening Plenary of the ATA'
By Eric Wicklund
07:39 PM

Molly Coye, chief innovation officer at the UCLA Health System, shared  the stage Sunday with Mercy Health President and CEO Lynn Britton during the Opening Plenary of the American Telemedicine Association's 18th Annual International Meeting and Trade Show..

A graduate of Johns Hopkins who is board certified by the American College of Preventive Medicine (she also holds a Masters in Chinese history and has authored two books on the subject), she founded and served as CEO of the Health Technology Center, co-founded and served as a board chairman for CalRHIO, and has served as commissioner of health for the state of New Jersey, director of the California Department of Health Services and head of the Division of Public Health Practice at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Prior to joining UCLA in 2012, she chaired the advisory board for the Center for Technology and Aging at the Public Health Institute in Oakland.

Dr, Coye recently answered these e-mailed questions from mHIMSS.org Editor Eric Wicklund regarding the state of the telemedicine industry.

Q: How does telemedicine figure into your job responsibilities? How were you first introduced to the concept, and has it evolved as you'd anticipated?

A:Telemedicine has been one of the most important sources of innovation for our work at the Institute for Innovation at UCLA Health. We regard it as a core building block of strategic innovation and transformation – and a source not only of new technologies, but new business and service models as well.

Q: What are biggest issues facing the ATA? How should they be resolved? Do you see any new ones on the horizon that should be addressed now?

A: ATA's challenge is to transition from its earliest days as a small special interest advocacy group to a leader in health reform and industry reconfiguration. Given the exponential growth of telemedicine and telehealth offerings by health systems, and the importance of these for the aggregation of hospitals and medical groups into large regional and multi-state systems, we are positioned to lead and broker some of the most important policy and regulatory changes that will be needed. The ATA leadership has seized this opportunity and we believe the association has excelled in this transition. The on-going challenge will be to focus on the most important trends and innovations as they proliferate.

Q: Who's driving the adoption of telemedicine and mHealth these days – the physicians, the administrators or the consumers? Why?

A:The drivers are increasingly the large health systems that recognize the potential of telemedicine and mHealth to make their services convenient, efficient and highly effective. They also recognize the potential for consumer engagement and loyalty as these services extend beyond their local market areas. In addition, health plans are beginning to reward remote services and to drive the development and adoption of mHealth solutions. In all these cases, ready consumer adoption and enthusiasm supports and rewards these initiatives, but I would say consumers are not yet at the stage of demanding remote services.

Q: What does telemedicine/mHealth do for you or your organization now that couldn't be done before?

A: It allows us to provide services far more locally and more conveniently for our patients, and to establish access for consumers without requiring the construction or purchase of facilities. It allows our specialists to serve far-flung patients with well-coordinated referrals and greatly reduced need for specialist travel.

Q: Is the industry being over-regulated, to the point of hindering innovation, or does it need to be better regulated?

A: It is not yet over-regulated, but we are at some risk of that because of the lack of familiarity all regulators have with the issues, potential risks and benefits of these new models.

Q: In what is fast becoming a consumer-oriented healthcare landscape, how can telemedicine or mHealth be used to improve the physician's standing? Do you see new business models developing?

A: Most physicians are now employed by hospitals or other organizations, or members of medical groups. In these cases, the ability to match physicians with appropriate consumers or patients in order to facilitate and improve the experience on both sides results in far greater satisfaction and loyalty on the part of the patients. There are a multitude of new business models, including more "mass customized" concierge models, primary care risk models and untethered physicians access portals for consultations and diagnosis and treatment.

Q: What does this all mean for the consumer?

A: For most consumers, this means that their access to care when and where they need it will improve dramatically. Over time, their ability to select providers they prefer, to make more informed decisions and to get support for the management of chronic conditions will make consumers more independent and more satisfied with their care.

Q: And finally, name one or a couple of the cool new telemedicine/mHealth solutions or devices that you're particularly interested in. What's on the horizon?

A: US Preventive Medicine has a wellness and health management program that combines HRAs, biometric screening, online and mobile coaching solutions and social media. LifeImage allows cloud management of images to support efficient referrals and consultations. Teladoc provides 24x7 access to physicians online and by telephone for acute episodic care that reduces absenteeism and ED use. SeeChange is a new health plan that combines prevention, early diagnosis, incentives and support systems to keep employees healthier. And Advanced ICU Care offers tele-ICU services across the country from a limited number of fixed hubs. Altogether, it's exciting!