Behold, a telemedicine boom

Remember the boom (and, for many, eventual bust) in regional health information organizations from 2004 until about 2007? We may be on the cusp of a similar explosion in telemedicine.

FierceMobileHealthcare has only been around for a few months, but look at what we've already observed:

  • Last month, Cisco Systems and UnitedHealth Group announced plans to build a national telemedicine network.
  • Legislation pending in Congress would expand Medicare reimbursements for telemedicine and remote monitoring to urban areas.
  • The Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA, is providing remote specialty care to understaffed hospitals in its home state and as far away as Bermuda.
  • Ambulance services in Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana have added mobile telemedicine capabilities.
  • Today, we report that a hospital in Ontario is testing remote monitoring of critical care at two isolated rural hospitals.

The latest hint comes to us from the Rocky Mountain region, where the Colorado Hospital Association and the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council are teaming up with Qwest Communications to connect nearly 400 providers across the state in the new Colorado Telehealth Network. The organizers expect it to be one of the largest health information networks in the country, perhaps--and this is purely my intuition here, not anything they've said--eventually serving as the basis for a RHIO to transmit clinical data between multiple entities. What the CHA and CBHC are saying, though, is that the network will help the state fulfill a promise made by Gov. Bill Ritter to expand rural broadband access. So telehealth networks can serve multiple purposes.

This technology isn't foolproof; indeed, we've just learned this morning that a report coming out on Thursday will question the effectiveness of remote ICU monitoring in terms of both cost and quality. (We're not allowed to say anything more until then.) But at least we're seeing a groundswell of creative applications of established technology. For an industry as far behind in IT as healthcare, that's something to be optimistic about. - Neil