Telehealth Goes Mainstream

The pundits at leading tech publications like Wired and Information Week are now confirming what industry insiders have long known: telehealth is going mainstream.

Two recent stories in Wired prove that telehealth has indeed crossed the Rubicon. The magazine noted that UnitedHealthcare’s decision to cover virtual doctor visits is an undeniable tipping point. This year, the virtual coverage extends only to the insurer’s self-funded clients, but it’s slated to roll out to all members by 2016.

Wired also gave some love to the pediatric telemedicine innovations at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Viewers of the TV comedy Portlandia might mistakenly think that most of Oregon is trendy and urban, but there are plenty of rural communities that don’t have a wide variety of service lines. In fact, there are only three pediatric intensive care units in the entire state – and all of them are in Portland.

The Wired story recounts how OHSU pediatrician (and telehealth medical director) Miles Ellenby was able to help guide the resuscitation of a newborn baby in a rural hospital from the OHSU network hub in Portland. It’s not a simple procedure, but now it’s becoming almost commonplace because specialists can walk local caregivers through the entire process.

This type of guidance is also essential in stroke treatment. The Wired piece notes that most rural providers don’t have the expertise to determine whether tPA administration will help or hurt the patient. But via telehealth, they can let a stroke specialist decide – and that’s why successful tPA administration rates are increasing dramatically throughout the U.S.

In recent decades, strokes have claimed the lives of many famous people (like Richard Nixon and Cary Grant), plus thousands of non-celebrities worldwide. Now telestroke networks are greatly improving outcomes by enabling timely, informed tPA administration. The fact that it’s becoming “commonplace” is extraordinary.

Wired Magazine Telemedicine


Mixed Messages

When you scan the telemedicine headlines, there’s always cause for celebration – along with moments that make you scratch your head in disbelief.

                    Let’s start with the good news:

 Last month, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) approved a model policy on telemedicine that is strongly supportive of today’s acute care telemedicine. One excerpt reads, “Generally, telemedicine is not an audio-only telephone conversation, an e-mail/instant messaging or a fax. It typically involves the application of secure videoconferencing to provide or support healthcare delivery by replicating the interaction of a traditional encounter in person between a provider and patient.”

 Audio-only telehealth providers immediately put up a big howl, but FASB got it right. A phone call is no substitute for being able to clearly see and interact with a patient.

 And now for the troubling news: the medical licensing board in Idaho doesn’t share the enthusiasm for telemedicine seen in other states. In fact, the Idaho board recently placed serious sanctions on Dr. Ann DeJong for simply prescribing an antibiotic over the phone. The sanctions included a license restriction (preventing her from doing long-distance consults) and a $10,000 fine.

 Mind you, those sanctions took place in a state that has one of the most innovative telemedicine programs in the nation: the St. Alphonsus Idaho/Oregon Telemedicine Network.

 Ironically, the Idaho legislature recently passed a bill calling for healthcare stakeholders to set new – hopefully, more progressive – standards for telemedicine.

 Maybe it’s time for the Idaho board to read the entire 11-page FSMB model policy report – and consider reducing the penalties for Dr. DeJong.



WIRED And Inspired

The first-ever WIRED Health Conference in New York last week was an ideal forum for spreading the word about the latest innovations in telestroke and teleICU programs. ITH’s Charlie Huiner spoke at the conference, along with Yulun Wang (via RP-VITA) from Santa Barbara.

You may be sick of that overused phrase “thought leader,” but that’s exactly the type of person this conference draws. Most of the attendees could have easily worn badges saying “guru” or “visionary.” So there’s no better place to change the hearts and minds of the world’s healthcare elite.

Yulun and Charlie shared the stage with some notable names like genomics pioneer Craig Venter and Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis. But their mission there was not to bask in the limelight but to amplify the conference theme: using realtime data to drive healthcare decision-making.

InTouch Health’s RP-VITA

The InTouch presentation was something of a coming out party for RP-VITA, showcasing its environmental awareness capabilities. The ITH presenters noted that coordinated care at most hospitals remains elusive, and demonstrated how RP-VITA can help make it a reality.

Each year in the U.S., 100,000 lives are lost due to medical errors and miscommunication. By providing team-based care and easy documentation, RP-VITA can dramatically reduce those errors and missteps.

Conference attendees marveled at how RP-VITA can undock automatically and glide to a bedside on its own – all from a tap on an iPad. (Don’t forget that most of WIRED’s editors like Steven Levy are longtime fans of R2-D2.)

Thanks to the InTouch presentation, the WIRED world has a clearer understanding of how telestroke and teleICU programs can make healthcare decision-making faster, more accurate and less expensive. Click here to see the live stream of the InTouch presentation.