Telehealth conference spotlights innovation, disruptive technology

By Eric Wicklund
10:20 AM
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When all is said and done, the advancement of telehealth and mobile health in the United States will be accomplished through the percolation of innovation.

In a city known for its coffee, that was one of the central themes of the first day of the Institute for Health Technology Transformation’s Seattle summit, titled "Unleashing the Power of mHealth and Telemedicine." The two-day conference, concluding Tuesday, brought together more than 100 healthcare executives from around the country to discuss such issues as cloud computing, mobile health strategies to improve clinical outcomes, accelerating the adoption of mobile health projects and whether mobile health and telehealth could be considered disruptive technologies.

[See also: Telehealth boon expected for chronic care patients.]

Among the speakers sharing the stage was Bill Spooner, chief information officer for San Diego-based Sharp Healthcare. Spooner ran through a lengthy list of telehealth and mHealth-related projects that the award-winning health system has undertaken, pointing out that many of the new processes developed at Sharp were the result not of new technologies, but of “smart uses” of existing technology.

He also expressed concern that the need to prove meaningful use and the change-over from ICD-9 to ICD-10 would stifle innovation.

“It’s going to be a challenge these next few years to do these things that are required,” he said.

That challenge might best be taken on by looking at mHealth as a disruptive technology – a technology that isn’t, by itself, new, but is used in new forms and processes. In a panel discussion on that topic, Amnon Gavish, senior vice president of vertical solutions for Vidyo, said the tipping point in that process came when people started using cellphones for more than just making phone calls.

Claudia Tessier, president of the mHealth Initiative, pointed out that the changes being forced on healthcare by mobile technology are coming from patients and physicians, who are finding new uses for their mobile devices and compelling healthcare institutions to catch up.

“We are being pushed by the users, by the patients, and I find that exciting,” added Petra Knowles, RN, vice president and chief information officer for PeaceHealth Southwest.

Tessier added that while mobile communications are moving beyond voice to data as well, and they’re bringing everyone into the discussion, from the patient to the provider to the payer.

“Mobile technology is enabling communication among all the stakeholders,” she said.

[See also: mHealth apps forecast to increase threefold by 2012.]

Another panel discussion – this on the acceleration of telehealth strategies and the need for sustainable business models – pointed out that simply adopting technology because it’s available won’t guarantee success. At a time when more and more physicians are working outside the hospital setting, the challenge is not to provide information, but to make it useful to the physician.

“The question is when I’m at a ball game and I get a phone call, what kind of information do I want to receive?” asked Ben Kanter, a physician and chief medical officer at San Diego-based Palomar Pomerado Health.

“You really have to understand what the user needs,” he added.

Orlando Portale, Palomar Pomerado’s chief innovation officer, said the bottleneck in improving mobile health access lies with vendors who have been slow to create mobile solutions. And Rick Jennings, chief technology officer for vRAD, pointed out that federal regulators, like the Food and Drug Administration, may have been caught off guard by the explosion in popularity of mobile devices like tablets, and they’re now “moving quite fast” to regulate this field.

“My advice to you is be very agile,” he said.

Jay Srini, chief strategist for SCS Ventures, pointed out that the healthcare industry is dealing with the concepts of accountable care and patient-centered medical homes, so that the delivery of healthcare isn’t tied to one single point of contact or event, but carried out and measured over time. With that in mind, she said, it’s important to think of healthcare as an ecosystem, with change and innovation coming from – and required by – all of its stakeholders.