Telemedicine conference commences with message of innovation

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) kicked off its 17th annual conference and exhibition on April 29 with a physician and a video game enthusiast giving the opening keynote.

Over the next two days at San Jose’s McEnery Convention Center, approximately 4,500 attendees will meet to discuss, view and envision the cutting-edge technology and concepts that drive telemedicine, telehealth and mobile health in the nation’s healthcare landscape.

And they’ll learn that it takes a healthy dose of youthful enthusiasm and innovation to get things done.

That was the message delivered at the opening plenary session by Charles “Butch” Rosser, MD, FACS, a professor of surgery at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“Our planet is in need of a win, and the ATA and you are going to deliver because it is our time and we will prevail,” said Rosser. “Healthcare is now a marquee item, and the good thing is that the solution will not be accomplished by traditional means.”

Rosser’s challenge to the ATA is expected to be picked up by Tuesday morning’s keynote speaker: Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist Steve Wozniak, who teamed up with Steve Jobs to form Apple Computer some 36 years ago.

New to this year’s conference is a track specifically devoted to mobile health. It was also the subject of a full-day pre-conference program on April 28 titled “Making mHealth Work: How mHealth Can Be Integrated Into Today’s Healthcare System.”

For Napoleon Monroe, managing director of New Directions Technology Consulting, LLC, patients have always been “a part of the healthcare system, but they’ve essentially been receivers of the system’s services and products.” In other words, communication has been a one-way street from the doctor to the patient.

Now, however, the communications landscape is changing as “smartphones and other consumer devices facilitate two-way, mobile communication,” added Monroe.

Despite the opportunities, Monroe said, there are a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before mHealth can begin to live up to its potential.

For starters, he has concerns about how the regulatory system will be able to keep up with the pace of change, noting that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is “probably feeling inundated” by a market in which new devices are introduced so regularly.

Next, there’s the issue of how to design mobile devices for patient and/or caregiver use. In the past, Monroe said, devices given to patients sat at home with them, “but now they have to be durable, secure and reliable.”

Echoing Monroe’s concerns, Sunil Hazarary, chief commercial officer for the Authentidate Holding Corp. and chairman of the ATA’s mHealth Discussion Group, noted that while the FDA has tried to start defining the regulatory process for mHealth stakeholders, “they need to make sure they don’t stifle innovation even as they need to protect the public’s interests.”

Despite their concerns about the development of a smooth regulatory process for mHealth, both Monroe and Hazaray are optimistic about the prospects of mHealth.

In Hazaray’s eyes, “the single biggest stakeholder” in the emerging mHealth landscape are the payers, as they see healthcare costs continuing to rise, with more than 70 percent of those costs coming from patients with chronic conditions.

At the same time, he said, providers want the new technology because they’re coming under increasing pressure to control costs, and “patients like it because it untethers them. Now, they can live at home” and use the new technology to stay “plugged into” their provider’s services.

As for Monroe, he’s confident the bumps in the road won’t slow the incorporation of mHealth into existing systems.

“Do we stop?” he asked. “Or do we say we might make a few mistakes, introducing a few things that may not pan out, but we keep going?”

Noting again the “need for appropriate regulation,” he added: “You’re not going to stop the advances of technology, and to try to do so is inappropriate.”

In short, the potential is just too great.

MedTech Media Editor Jeff Rowe and MedTech Project Editor Mike Moran contributed to this article.

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