Telehealth: Moving at 100 mph into healthcare's mainstream

When asked to predict the most talked-about theme at this year's American Telemedicine Association's 16th Annual International Meeting and Exposition, ATA Vice President A. Stewart Ferguson didn't hesitate for a second: How telehealth and accountable care organizations go together.

"I think you'll see that in many situations where people are trying to drive efficiency in healthcare, telehealth is going to become an obvious part of that matrix," he said.

It should come as no surprise that Ferguson pinpointed ACOs as a primary theme at the Tampa-based show, which kicks off Sunday. The newly formed healthcare model essentially has been the story of the year for healthcare in 2011. Just this week, in fact, the ATA sent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick a letter imploring him to waive five regulatory restrictions that would prevent ACOs from using telemedicine services to coordinate patient care, improve outcomes and save money. 

It also should come as no surprise that telehealth is an obvious choice for driving efficiency (hence, it's role in the success of ACOs). In a society that values speed as much as precision, mobile devices and web-based applications provide the best of both worlds in the places where each are absolutely critical for day-to-day functionality.

Ferguson, though, also believes that while telehealth finally appears to be moving into "mainstream" consciousness, its rapid rise is nothing short of amazing.

"It's like going from 20 miles per hour, to all of a sudden going 100 miles per hour," he said.

As more disruptive technologies (hello, iPad 2!) emerge to truly revolutionize healthcare, telehealth is right there, along for the ride. In the blink of an eye, telehealth has turned a corner on two wheels. I'm intrigued to see where the industry is headed now that it's got a little wind on its back. - Dan