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Highlights of the 2012 ATA Conference

ATA ConferenceThe American Telemedicine Association, ATA Conference buzzed with excitement in San Jose last week. It was clear to many of us in attendance that this year is a “tipping-point” for the association as well as the telehealth movement. With the advances in broadband and usage of communication and internet technology since the ATA’s founding in 1993, most of the significant advances in telemedicine and telehealth have happened in the last 2 years. Much is changing in health care and technology, but this year’s meeting seemed more mature, more focused yet still ablaze with enthusiasm. My sense of the tone of the meeting was more confident than ever before, with stakeholders of all types describing a more unified vision of what’s right around the corner.

At the ATA 2012 Opening Plenary, James “Butch” Rosser gave a speech about the potential of telemedicine with a resounding message: “Earth needs a win.” Rosser believes in telemedicine, having himself guided a surgeon through a complex procedure that was later broadcast on the Discovery network. Watch this passionate presentation filmed on April 29, 2012 in San Jose, Calif. His strong belief in remote supervision and telementoring are highlighted. Catch video highlights here.

It’s not about the technology any more.

“The patients are ready – they’re enabled,” said Andrew Watson, MD, a surgeon and executive director of telemedicine at UPMC and medical director of the Center for Connected Medicine in Pittsburgh. “This (telemedicine) is not an emerging technology any more. It’s emerged.”

Most Significant Trends:

  • Chronic disease management and
  • Delivering services to the home (as we have discussed here in this blog, with models having been developed within large institutions such as the military and the Veterans Administration (VA), leave both practitioners and patients connecting through the patient home at risk until more systems are in place.)

Biggest Challenges?

  • Institutional healthcare and
  • Our current fragmented system, built in “silos” where disciplines and industries don’t yet cooperate well with each other.

Exhibits

The exhibit floor at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center was busier and more crowded than ever, but with more sedate forms of technology that have proven their worth. Attendees seemed more eager to cross disciplines and discuss partnerships that could bring benefits to multidisciplinary providers using multipurpose models and technologies.

Licensure

As we’ve discussed here in this forum, licensure is heating up, with providers asking tough questions that simply can’t be answered with a single response The ATA’s CEO, Jonathan Linkous outlined many of the advances and continued efforts to establish national licensure (which differs from federal licensure.)

Reimbursement

Many discussions focused on reimbursement. We haven’t yet arrived at a point where reimbursement is readily available. While we’ve made progress, reimbursement still needs to be driven by business cases – in other words, providers still need to prove that telehealth saves money and improves outcomes. Only when that information is more readily accessible and advanced by the average practitioner  will we gain acceptance (and financing) from private payers and the government. Some speakers urged their audience to take those business cases to their Congressional representatives. Meanwhile we have 12 states who have mandated telehealth reimbursement, and more are currently examining the issues.

mHealth

Despite the dizzying growth of gadgets and their skyrocketing demand, fundamental issues remain, including how to design mobile devices for patient and/or providers. Mobile devices need to not only impress and render service, but also need to be “durable, secure and reliable”.

Steve Wozniak

I can’t close this post without mentioning the keynote “interview” given Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder, Apple Computer, Inventor of the World’s First Personal Computer. On Tuesday morning, the auditorium filled to hear Steve interviewed by the ATA’s President, Bernard Harris, Jr. MD, MBA. From a whirl of lights and music, the “Woz” appeared and amused, inspired and warmed us with his recollections of how he invented the first computer and his growing up alongside Steve Jobs.

For me, one of the most fascinating questions he answered had to do with suggestions he’d give to the “entrepreneurs” of telemedicine, who comprised much of the audience.

He suggested these goals:

  • Do what we enjoy and partner with others to do related pieces of our business plan. He gave the example of his enjoying the technology building process, and Steve Jobs enjoying the marketing process. As a team, they were much stronger than if they had each worked independently.
  • He then stressed the need to limit our focus and protect our “brand” from being diluted by outside influences, giving the example that Apple’s strength is in its control of all aspects of their product, from software to hardware, unlike Microsoft, which does not control the hardware.He drew our attention to the fact that Apple controls the software, the hardware and all other aspects of its brand: iPod, iPhone, iPad, and how they all connect to the iTunes store.
  • He also stressed the need for striving to be the best we can be, whatever we do.

Next Year’s ATA?

If you’re serious about using technology, start making plans now for next year’s ATA. It is only by crossing our traditional disciplinary divides that we as mental health practitioners will find our place in the rapidly evolving healthcare system, which will soon demand a multidisciplinary focus on technology for both service delivery and accountability. ATA 2013 will be held on May 5-7, 2013, Austin, TX. Join me there for ATA’s 20th Anniversary!

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