Virtual Care Takeaways from ATA 2019 Annual Conference and Expo

Takeaways from ATA’s 2019 Annual Conference and Expo

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) held its 2019 Annual Conference and Expo from April 14-16, 2019 in New Orleans, LA. InTouch staff members attended, eager to tap into the latest news and information in regard to the telehealth industry. Our staff shared some of their most valuable takeaways from this exciting event.

Tech Giants Are Targeting Telehealth

Nate Gladwell, MHA, RN, Clinical Operations Officer at the University of Utah, discussed successful health system motives in direct-to-consumer (DTC) applications. He began with the fact that tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google are targeting telehealth due to its high scalability. Digital healthcare enables physicians to work from nearly anywhere–a major benefit for many.

Patients Appreciate the Value of Telehealth

One of the main barriers preventing the widespread adoption of telehealth is the lack of insurance coverage. Despite this, we can’t negate the benefits of implementing a telehealth program. Telemedicine delights patients, often making it cheaper and more convenient for them to get the care they need.

University of Utah was one of the first health systems to put physician reviews online, and many other systems followed suit. Providing consumers with the transparency to recognize the value and quality of care they will receive from a given healthcare professional is one step towards improving the patient experience and achieving a successful DTC telehealth program.

In order for services to be of great value to consumers, they must be high in quality and low in cost. Telemedicine also provides potential cost savings for providers. A recent RAND study indicates practices that have a DTC telehealth program have a substantially lower cost per unit than practices without. For example, one health system recently began utilizing telehealth for diabetes management, which resulted in significantly lower pharmacy costs.

Global Health Trailblazer’s Experiences, Lessons, and Key Considerations

Sharon Allen, Executive Director of World Telehealth Initiative (WTI), explained that the organization aims to bring medical expertise to underserved communities around the world. One of the many benefits of using telehealth technology for this mission is that doctors can support these impoverished areas long-term from anywhere, instead of only being able to provide care in person for a short period of time.

However, WTI’s goals aren’t free from hurdles. They must consider how much of these communities’ cultures should be taken into account while building the program. Seeing what common points exist between cultures is interesting, and the differences among cultures can also be identified. Additionally, it’s challenging to work with several time zones and languages, requires the help of volunteer physicians.

Exporting medical equipment to various countries is also difficult, as some countries must obtain approval for their equivalents of the FDA. Fortunately, WTI’s partnership with Direct Relief allow for sufficient access to medical supplies.

Transforming Care with Telemedicine

Denise Pimintel from Dignity Health spoke on transformation. She stated that one day, remote and in-person care should be indistinguishable from one another. Technology should become almost invisible, working almost every time and fading in the background.

To kick off a telehealth program, weekly meetings with partners and remote care teams are essential. It’s also crucial to put the right people in remote positions. Starting with physicians who are excited to provide virtual care is key to implementing a successful telehealth program. They must have humility, be able to build trust, and be very situationally aware.

Pimintel also said, “As a network, we work hard at keeping leadership engaged. We want to keep them informed and up-to-date with what’s happening on the ground. We put forward our success and challenges. We are keeping patients in-house, we are keeping these patients close to their families, and close to the resources that matter most to these patients.”

Impact of Telehealth Technology on the Healthcare Workforce

Karen Deli from InTouch Health spoke on the impact of telehealth technology on the workforce and analyzed current healthcare patterns. Regarding supply modeling, physician burnout, and early retirement, what if the healthcare delivery system takes us in one direction or the other?

The potential for telemedicine to keep physicians in the workforce longer and enjoy their careers more is a good measurement of supply. One cautious estimate suggests that burnout could cause a shortage of 42,000 physicians by the end of 2030, while other estimates put that number at 120,000.

As technology advances, physicians might be able to do more, be more efficient, and experience less burnout. Telemedicine may also have the potential to break down financial and geographic barriers to care. Unfortunately, reimbursement levels are still low in many areas.

Establishing Telehealth Networks

Karen Deli of InTouch Health stated, “I have watched telemedicine evolve from its own thing on the side to being integrated into all specialties as a standard way to provide care.”

To establish a professional network and support successful collaboration between providers, facilities must have virtual journal clubs and the ability to have instantaneous chats that are HIPAA compliant. They must also regularly engage in seminars, working to establish their own networks. When physicians from all over the globe come together as a team, they build camaraderie.

There must be training and education on how to interact with patients, as there are nuances between in-person and virtual care. This training for remote providers is crucial. InTouch Health created tele-presenter courses, and it’s essential that hospitals have a similar set of expectations with training materials on hand.