Video conferencing in healthcare: Who gets the check?

By Judy Mottl

Mobile healthcare technology is advancing at rapid pace, driving a steady stream of innovative treatment strategies and devices that promise to save everyone money while improving healthcare services.

One of the latest is a telemedicine video conferencing trial pilot launched by Time Warner Cable, Tely Lab and the Cleveland Clinic, as reported by InformationWeek. Cardiac patients needing follow-up care are able to check in with doctors and get real-time feedback while speaking directly to their physician using the system.

"Healthcare is probably the single most exciting vertical we're looking at that's underserved this class of video," Tely Labs CEO Sreekanth Ravi, told InformationWeek, noting the cost savings provided parlays perfectly into requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The vendor is also piloting its technology with several other clinics and envisions the day will soon come when patients can participate in a virtual traditional doctor office visit as its system is capable of collecting data from health-monitoring devices.

"That's almost to the point where you could gather all the vitals the nurse takes when you come into the office," Ravi says.

Yes, that scenario would be both amazing and a game changer for the healthcare services industry, the telecom industry and consumers.

But here's the killjoy: Who is going to foot the bill for such services as few, if any, qualify for federal healthcare reimbursement? Medicaid and Medicare don't provide payment support for such telemedicine services. While mobile healthcare tech is providing lower cost services, is the cost something consumers can handle given already high insurance premium costs?

The initial focus, for both industry and services providers, is to get federal agencies on board with telemedicine reimbursements.

As reported this week, the American Telemedicine Association is lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services to allow Medicare providers paid under alternative payment methods the flexibility to use telehealth options. Healthcare services providers are also aiming for the same by providing real cost-savings data on pilot video telemedicine efforts.

If federal health agencies get on board, it should be an easy task to get healthcare payers on board as well. After all telemedicine, mobile healthcare innovations and emerging devices promise big cost savings for everyone in the healthcare chain. - Judy (@FierceHealthIT)