As health care costs become a growing concern, technology providers feel that patients and doctors alike can get better results by using telehealth products that can bring the benefits of personal visits without travel. Telemedicine has been around for years, but its use as a sophisticated health management tool is currently underutilized, promoters contend.
The demographics of an aging population and the focus on cutting health care
costs have attracted a number of startups and major corporations, though usage
is still quite limited. "When you're talking about videoconferencing and
sophisticated multi-function devices, it's probably in the range of 15 to 20,000
homes now," says Jonathon Linkous, executive director of the American
Telemedicine Association in Washington, D.C. (http://www.atmeda.org/ehealth/ehealth.htm)
He adds that the Veteran's Administration is installing equipment in 20-25,000
homes as part of a pilot cost-cutting program.
Most observers say the technology is ready, but the infrastructure is lacking. "One key issue is a lack of reimbursement. Another is that doctors and nurses need resources to help them understand the data and then create sustained operating procedures that include quality control," says Pramod Gaur, CEO of Viterion TeleHealthcare LLC, a Tarrytown, NY (www.viterion.com/products_v100.cfm) startup funded by Bayer and Panasonic.
Establishing standards so data from different systems can be used easily is another issue that must be resolved before the market will see solid growth, he adds.
Companies like Viterion and AMD Telemedicine Inc. of Lowell, MA, make systems
that send data from patient to doctor (www.amdtelemedicine.com/products_list.cfm?Specialty_ID=HOC500).
The companies address two-way communications in different ways, addressing
different cost levels. Viterion's hardware includes e-mail functions, so users
have one machine to deal with, as well as eliminating the cost of a computer and
Internet service provider. Viterion has also unveiled a service that lets
clinicians access patient data from any computer, giving them more flexibility
to access data. For patients that require more one-one-one personal care, AMD
Telemedicine provides a videoconferencing system that can replace or augment its
Viterion's Telehealth Monitor lets patients send blood pressure, temperature, sugar levels, and other data from their home. Data is then stored so doctors and nurses can analyze it when they have time.