ROI? To some of the industry's top vendors, that's just three letters

ATA executive panel looks for common goals in a personalized market
By Eric Wicklund
03:09 PM

So just how do you measure the ROI in telemedicine? In the final Industry Executive Session Tuesday afternoon at the ATA's 18th Annual International Meeting & Trade Show, even the experts weren't sure.

"We need solid data," said Karen Gilberg, MD, vice president of medical affairs and marketing for Bosch Healthcare. "Data is going to be the key differentiator."

Others saw things differently.

"We are being thrown right into live activation and (asked to) prove it out at the vendor's risk and the patient's risk," said Michael Lamnitzer, senior director of Philips Telehealth Solutions. "We don't have time any more at this point to do all those large-scale clinical studies."

Added Lisa Roberts, global clinical and innovations manager for Viterion Telehealthcare: "By the time you've got (a study) published, it's three to five years after that work."

There's the rub. Today's healthcare leaders, pressured by the shifting sands of reform and a demand to do better, don't want to wait around for telemedicine to prove itself. They want to see hard numbers now, and they won't commit to new programs or ideas until they see the proof.

But one provider or payer's numbers won't be the same as another's. "If you've done one telehealth business plan," said Ron Emerson, RN, global director of solutions and market development and global director of healthcare for Polycom, "then you've done one telehealth business plan. There are a lot of different dynamics."

In other words, what works for one provider might not work for another. One system might see a decrease in hospitalization rates, while another finds an improvement in home-based post-acute care. One might see telemedicine as a new business line, while another is just looking to shore up older, more established services.

"We already have everything at our fingertips," pointed out Jennifer Farrell, vice president of government services for Cardiocom, who feels the patient and his or her employer will dictate what does and doesn't work in telehealth and mHealth. Providers, she said, aren't necessarily interested in new things, but in drawing better clinical outcomes from what they have.

That's the challenge, and it was the primary focus of this year's ATA conference. The pilots are gone, the possibilities and proposals are old. It's time to target the telemedicine and mHealth programs that are working and to explain why they are – while at the same time understanding that each one of those programs is unique and won't provide the same results if applied elsewhere.

The panelists agreed that getting a top-down commitment to telemedicine is vital, and targeting clinical efficiencies and cost savings isn't bad, either. But trying to pull hard data from one program and tie it to another won't work. Study the market, determine what you specifically want to do in that market, and make the project specific.

It won't be easy. Mention the electronic medical record, and everyone groans. "How many years have we been working toward EMRs, and even with the incentives it's been difficult," Gilberg said.

"It's very personalized," concluded Roger Downey, communications manager for GlobalMed. "It's like pinning Jell-O to a wall."