AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telemedical Technology: Creating a Healthcare World without Barriers

As with many other high tech gadgetry, revolutionary processes and scientific inventions telemedicine has its roots in the NASA space program. For those early adopters of telemedicine, the efficacy of the doctor/patient consultation and the ability to improve patient outcomes were on the top of the list for barriers to entry. Many thought that patients would be hesitant to trade personal face-to-face visits with their doctor for a consultation through a virtual robot. But as early adopters used the technology to bring specialized care to remote and distant rural areas, patients soon realized the convenience and cost savings of not having to travel long distances to receive the latest in specialized healthcare, and soon embraced the new experience in connecting with a doctor.

The process is now considered to be an ideal use of technology to monitor and connect healthcare professionals with patients over long distances. With the introduction and increasing popularity of wearable technology, the existing digital info-structure in many rural areas of the country limited the expansion of telehealth. With the recent introduction of ConnectAll, a new federal initiative aimed at building broadband parity across America, is expected to provide nearly 20 million more Americans with access to telemedicine. “The expansion of affordable Broadband will further solidify the rapidly growing telemedicine sector, which is transforming the healthcare paradigm,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO, American Telemedicine Association (ATA). “This initiative helps to deliver the promise of more cost-effective healthcare delivery models, and promotes the expansion of telehealth services for all.”

With Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance carriers continually expanding the number of virtual services approved for reimbursement, a once formidable obstruction is disappearing all across the country and the world. A growing number of healthcare providers are now expanding their reach. “This is a world without boundaries, and that’s what we’re seeing,” said Andrew Watson, MD, chief medical information officer for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC’s) International and Commercial Services Division, “The advent of telemedicine in a world without boundaries is no different than using Facebook or Skype around the world. We’re just seeing this technology impact medicine.”

But not all of the walls to expansion have been breached. Much remains to be done to remove existing impediments such as state by state licensing and credentialing requirements. The established healthcare regulatory system with its myriad of governing bodies, Boards, and legislatures continues to be a formidable foe when it comes to interjecting new technology into the traditional face-to-face experience between the healthcare provider and patient. “In-person visits will likely remain the mainstay for local care for those fortunate enough to be around many physicians, but when minutes count in emergencies experts can step in and make the decisions that will determine a lifetime of health instead of a lifetime of disability. Telemedicine isn’t a fad but rather a disruptive innovation that flows naturally out of technological advances and has already contributed immensely to our society’s health. It’s a perfect fit for our shrinking resources,” says Matthews W. Gwynn, M.D., Partner, ACT.

ACT has been on the forefront of the use of telecommunication technology for years, remotely delivering live and interactive telestroke and other teleneurology solutions anytime, anywhere to hospitals and emergency medical centers throughout the Southeast. Progress in reforming the massive healthcare regulatory system is occurring as dedicated industry leaders tackle the challenges of integrating advanced remote medical technologies into the existing mainstream healthcare delivery model.



Telemedicine is Closing the Gap Between Experts and Child Abuse Victims

Telemedicine’s entry into the healthcare process has been rather obvious over the past decade, particularly to those who have benefited from advanced stroke care, treatment for chronic diseases or convenient routine care for common illness. For those who live in areas away from advanced-care medical centers, telemedicine is closing the geographical gap to advanced, specialized treatment for stroke, diabetes and other coronary and neurologic disorders. As technology makes its way across the full spectrum of healthcare, providers are using the newest telemedicine technology to tackle one of their most difficult tasks: identifying a victim of child abuse or neglect.

Many cases of suspected child abuse arrive at hospital ERs, doctor’s offices or clinics where doctors and nurses can be less experienced in making a proper diagnosis. With the use of virtual technology the process of determining a proper diagnosis is enhanced, and the gap between child care experts and rural hospitals and advocacy centers closed. “We’ve saved lives, and we’ve saved families,” says Dr. Lori D. Frasier, division chief of child abuse pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and National Children’s Alliance provide financial support to more than 800 children’s advocacy centers across the country where treatment for victims of child abuse are benefiting from the use of telemedicine. It is also critical that a diagnosis of abuse be accurate. “The value is in the accuracy of the diagnosis,” says Patricia Goede, PhD, vice president of clinical informatics at XIFIN, “Over-interpreting something can be a huge cost to children and families.”

In Georgia, where much of the State’s populations reside in rural areas, the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Center for Safe and Healthy Children (CSHC) has used telemedicine since 2009. Jordan Greenbaum, M.D., Medical Director of Children’s CSHC says, “An evaluation utilizing telemedicine reduces parental anxiety and stress by providing prompt access to expert care and support. It also saves time and resources for authorities, who can lose a workday driving to and from Atlanta. And for rural medical providers, telemedicine relieves some of the burden of accurately identifying abuse and interpreting physical findings.”

In Florida a sharp increase in child abuse and a shortage of treatment specialist has exasperated an existing care differential between advanced care facilities and rural areas where child abuse rates are the highest. Providers in the state are working to expedite the development and initiation of telemedicine programs to address the growing problem. In the mid-west, at The Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center at Children’s Minnesota, they’re utilizing the same platforms to share images and other tests and communicate with trained child abuse specialists.

Many formidable barriers to adoption and expansion of telemedicine remain, but as the utilization of the technology finds new and creative solutions across the range of medical services, closing the divide between specialized care and patients in need promises to remove many of the remaining, well-established opponents.



ACT Expands to Meet the Increasing Demands for Technology-Based Care

ResearchMoz.us recently published the results of new market research study titled ‘Telehealth and Telemedicine Market in HealthCare Industry 2015-2020’ which projects the global telemedicine market to grow 18.5 (CAGR) percent through 2019. It is clear that the healthcare industry is experiencing considerable growth in the use of digital technologies across a wide range of healthcare specialties such as telehealth, telestroke, wireless health monitoring, wearable health devices, and EMR.

One of the earliest adopters of telemedicine continues to advance in popularity with hospitals who seek around-the-clock stroke and other urgent Neurological care. As the demand for Neurologists increases, there is a growing shortage of experienced physicians available to provide continuous coverage at many facilities throughout the United States. AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT), the leading practice-based provider of telemedicine services located in Atlanta, GA was founded in 2009 to help hospitals overcome medical staff obstacles, ER diversion and help improve patient outcomes for stroke and other Neurological conditions. Since the fourth quarter of 2015, ACT has added numerous client hospitals to their expanding network and is responding to the increased demand for these services by adding qualified neurologists to their team.

“We are dedicated to preserving and strengthening our reputation as leaders in the field of telestroke care and continue to be fully committed to serve the needs of both our patients and client hospitals in a manner that is personal and highly professional,” says James M. Kiely, ACT Partner.

ACT is experiencing an impressive performance by demonstrating its values of integrity, transparency, accountability, collaboration and expertise. Matthews W. Gwynn, CEO, and ACT Partner comments, “We’ve set the standard of care for teleneurology and acute stroke care. We also believe in the importance of remaining technology agnostic and agile, permitting our client hospitals and enterprise-level systems to select the specific technology that best fits the needs of their respective facilities.”

The growing firm is also focused on results, continuously measuring performance across all of the healthcare organizations it serves to identify how to improve the process so as to positively impact patient outcomes. “We are one of the only telestroke providers publishing data centered on the success of our program,” says Lisa H. Johnston, ACT Partner. “We’re proud of setting a standard for other providers to follow.” The study, titled “Improving Telestroke Treatment Times in an Expanding Network of Hospitals”, was published by the Journal of Stroke & Cerebrovascular Diseases and authored by Keith A. Sanders, MD, James M. Kiely, MD, PhD, Matthews W. Gwynn, MD, Lisa H. Johnston, MD and Rahul Patel, BS. The results indicate that a practice-based telemedicine system can produce meaningful improvement in markers of telestroke efficiency in the face of rapid growth of a telestroke network.

“ACT has developed a model of telestroke care that many of our competitors aren’t able to replicate,” comments Dr. Keith Sanders, Partner, ACT. “Our results prove that our business is able to create telestroke programs that are not only effective but sustainable. As clinicians, we measure our success on consistently providing the highest level of stroke care.”



The Importance of Measuring Performance

Telestroke, the use of communication technology to remotely treat victims of acute stroke, continues to grow and has entered the mainstream of care in an ever evolving and increasingly disruptive healthcare delivery model. Like all medical innovations, telestroke must demonstrate successful outcomes to achieve sustained growth and acceptance. Merely asserting that telemedicine is faster, employs the latest technology, or promotes a better use of limited re-sources is laudable but insufficient.

AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT), a leading practice-based provider of Telemedicine services for hospitals seeking around-the-clock stroke and other urgent Neurological care, understands the importance of evaluating and documenting telestroke performance. In their recently published study “Improving Telestroke Treatment Times in an Expanding Network of Hospitals” the authors reveal that a practice-based telemedicine system can produce meaningful improvement in markers of telestroke efficiency.

“Success in our business isn’t just about adding new healthcare organizations to our client portfolio,’ says Dr. Matthews Gwynn, co-author and ACT partner. “As clinicians, we measure our success on consistently providing the highest level of stroke care and improving patient outcomes. This study is representative of our ongoing commitment to serve as a leader in telestroke care, establishing a standard of care and a model that supports the positive growth of telestroke programs across the country.”

As virtual health initiatives continue to move forward, new and valuable trends and telehealth technology solutions will continue to emerge. Traditional methods of delivering medical care will be challenged and disrupted at medical facilities, physicians’ offices and hospitals. Dr. Keith Sanders, ACT Partner and co-author comments, “It is critical to prove that our business is able to create telestroke programs that are not only effective but sustainable.”

For more information on how AcuteCare Telemedicine can assist you with acute stroke care, contact us!



Legislator Introduces New Bill to Remove Medicare Telehealth Barriers

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi has introduced legislation that seeks to remove barriers to telehealth services in Medicare. Medicare fee for service (FFS) does currently provide reimbursement for telehealth services to patients at rural area health clinics, however, current law limits telehealth reimbursement to rural areas, disallows the storage of information to physicians via electronic medical records, email and other communications technology and doesn’t reimburse telehealth services provided by physical or occupational therapists or for physicians who treat patients within their own home.

The bill, Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, attempts to broaden telehealth services across the country and offer an added opportunity to serve the needs of the elderly. The bill, which has broad bipartisan congressional support, would allow Medicare patients to use video conferencing, remote patient monitoring and technology to transfer patient data and will expand Medicare reimbursement of telehealth consultations and remote patient monitoring with fewer restrictions.

“This legislation has the potential to remove barriers to new healthcare delivery models that promote coordinated and patient-centered care. Importantly, the bill aims to maintain high standards whether a patient is seeing a physician in an office or via telemedicine,” said American Medical Association (AMA) President Steven Stack. “Telemedicine can strengthen the patient-physician relationship and improve access for patients with chronic conditions and limited access to quality care. The AMA’s guiding principles on telemedicine seek to foster innovation while promoting quality care.”

According to an analysis by the health-care consulting firm Avalere, expanded Telehealth services could save $1.8 billion dollars in medical cost over the next ten years by removing the current restrictions, and would make healthcare more available for patients who often struggle with access to the latest high quality care.

“We strongly believe in the importance of implementing processes and procedures for telemedicine. Our experience working with regional hospitals as well as enterprise level healthcare systems, has demonstrated that effectively executed telemedicine programs can drive significant value,” comments Dr. James Kiely, Partner, ACT. “In our most recent peer-reviewed article, we’ve proven that a telemedicine system can produce meaningful improvement in markers of telestroke efficiency in the face of rapid growth of a telestroke network.”

With a vastly aging population, Federal and State legislators must continue to make improvements in access to quality healthcare for Medicare patients even if it means establishing new legislation designed to govern telemedicine responsibly.



Healthcare Regulatory & Policy Environment Impacts Telehealth Adoption

For those who first thought telemedicine’s role would be limited to a supportive, “add-on” process focused on a narrow list of ailments and other procedures and treatments, today’s reality must be shocking, if not a bit frightening.

Unlike technology where advances are frequent and common, changes to industry governing regulations are often found at the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps rightfully so. While some may argue that the healthcare industry is overly regulated, others argue that well designed regulations and practice standards is the fundamental reason that our healthcare system is the envy of the world. The suspicious practices of past centuries of treating patients have been replaced by a complex set of regulations that are diverse across all fifty states but is universally founded on all responsible care givers guiding mantra, “First, do no harm”.

But no matter how well intentioned and successful, the massive healthcare regulatory system with its myriad of governing bodies, Boards, and legislatures is a formidable foe when it comes to interjecting new technology that promises to greatly improve and enhance the experience between healthcare provider and patient. The changes perhaps once thought to require mere tweaking around the edges of the regulatory giant are proving to be far more involved and are likely to require a restructuring of the healthcare regulatory environment, a process that will certainly slow the advancement and adoption of telehealth. Progress is occurring, at a disruptive but deliberate pace perhaps, as dedicated industry leaders tackle the challenges of integrating advanced remote medical technologies into the existing mainstream healthcare delivery model.

The American Telemedicine Association, the leading international resource and advocate promoting the use of advanced remote medical technologies is leading the way and monitoring the progress of change across all fifty states through two annual publications; The 50 State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis, Physician Practice Standards & Licensure and The State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis, Coverage & Reimbursement.

Ultimately, the future of telemedicine and its rate of adoption are dependent on reimbursement and regulatory policies at the industry, federal and state level. Jon Linkous, the CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, counts understanding healthcare’s regulatory and economic structure as one of his top To Do’s for companies active in the telehealth industry.



Technology & Telehealth At The Center of Healthcare Debate

Many industry pundits are predicting that 2016 will be the year that technology and healthcare will become the center of the healthcare industry. With advances being made to modify century old regulations and processes governing the established patient/doctor relationship, telehealth services are positioned to become main-stream in the delivery of care all across the country. Rapid adoption of technology driven health services is expected to accelerate as payment for services, interstate licensing and accreditation issues, currently complicating expansion, are resolved. “2016 is the time for telehealth,” said Nathaniel Lacktman, a partner at Foley & Lardner who specializes in telehealth. A major factor, he said, is that providers are taking on more financial risk for managing the health of enrolled populations. “What a provider can do on the front end is use telehealth to make the patient more likely to interact with a clinician,” he said.

As an increased number of states are allowing physicians to provide telehealth services across state lines through collaborative licensure arrangements, insurers across the industry are discovering the cost advantages of reimbursing for virtual care. However, a recently published survey conducted in 2014 by The American Academy of Family Physicians indicated that while 78 percent of respondents believed that telehealth would improve access to healthcare, only 15 percent actually used telemedicine during the year. The survey also pointed to other barriers to wider acceptance which include the need for additional training for caregivers, continued reimbursement issues, cost of the technology and potential liability issues. 

“Telehealth use is in the early stages of adoption,” states the paper. “Many of the barriers to wider adoption may be addressed by policy changes. Strategies to address the top two barriers identified by this survey include health care stakeholders offering new opportunities for training in the use of telehealth services and payers increasing awareness of their current reimbursement for telehealth services, as well as developing new ways to reimburse the services.”

On the consumer side, awareness appears to be a major factor in the level of use. While consumers are quick to buy into the benefits of a marriage between technology and their interactions with care givers, the mechanics of actually making a virtual connection, and when it is appropriate, has many potential users pausing at the first step. Providers will need to embark on a strategy to guide patients through the process of making that first connection and reinforcing the experience.

It’s safe to say that telehealth and technology will continue to dominate healthcare conversations in 2016.




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