ATA Conference Recap: My Impressions of the Show
By Norman Volsky
After attending and walking the exhibit hall of the 19th Annual American Telemedicine Conference in Baltimore Monday and Tuesday, I walked away with several conclusions (besides Baltimore having the world’s most delicious crab cakes.)
- Telemedicine is a very exciting space. This market has the potential to help hospitals, patients, employers, and health plans reduce cost. There are also solutions out there which simultaneously improve quality and outcomes. This is a market that is poised for some tremendous growth.
- The telehealth / telemedicine / telepresence (these all have different definitions) space could become commoditized very soon if it hasn’t already. There were a ton of companies that sold mobile carts, each with their own differentiators. Some were focused on providing their services at the lowest cost while others focused on quality and value. Either way, this market seems to be moving in the same direction that HIE and more recently EMR have gone in the past couple of years towards consolidation and commoditization.
- Telemedicine is geared towards multiple customers. There were some companies like Healthspot and American Well that were showing off kiosks or pods designed for the retail sector including pharmacies, large corporate headquarters, and supermarkets as well as hospitals. American Well had solutions geared towards a tablet and smartphone that were impressive. This is a market that could have some significant growth.
- Remote patient monitoring software companies are poised for growth. Some focus on home health, while others focus on post-acute and more broadly, the entire continuum of care. The companies that collect data from wearable devices are particularly cool. Many of these companies have patient engagement capabilities, secure texting, and outbound or proactive phone calls to patients to make sure they are following their care plans. This segment of HIT helps hospitals qualify for Meaningful Use by reducing readmissions. ACOs and health plans are leveraging these types of software systems to reduce cost, risk, and readmissions (the holy HIT trinity). The majority of these companies are focused on high-risk populations which include chronic care patients, the elderly, and patients who have had a recent major operation or episode. Others are focused on wellness for population management. I was particularly impressed with the exhibits of CareVia, AMC Health, Ideal Life, and Tactio Health.
- Unique software caught my eye. Specific companies that caught my eye had unique offerings such as iMDsoft (clinical information systems software geared towards perioperative and critical care) and MediSprout (a telemedicine platform that runs entirely on tablets and leverages existing HIT apps.)
- Smaller vendors need additional funding. I asked a lot of companies about their revenue model and some of them didn’t have great answers. There was also some ambiguity as to who the economic buyer would be (patients, hospitals, payers, etc.) Many companies threw out buzzwords like population health management and care coordination, but it seemed to me that they need to better articulate why these types of solutions are important to providers and health plans. If these companies can show how their solutions connect to the larger healthcare picture, they would have a better chance of obtaining the funding they require.
- This is a very sheltered segment of the industry. The majority of the booths I went to had no knowledge of HIStalk. Most were unfamiliar with the site and many of these companies did not have a vast knowledge of the software world. At least half of the exhibiting companies were hardware focused, for example mobile carts with videoconference capabilities customized for healthcare.
- The telemedicine segment should become more in tune with how their products and solutions fit within the broader healthcare IT market. With the previous conclusions in mind, these companies would be wise to keep abreast of blogs like HIStalk. They need to understand where hospitals are spending their money and what types of products and solutions will get the attention of hospital C-Level executives. With a better understanding of their competition for dollars, they would be more successful in articulating the right message to potential buyers. I also believe that partnering with some pure software companies could give them a more comprehensive and marketable offering to sell.
Overall, telemedicine is an area of healthcare that will have incredible growth over the next several years. There is a lot of competition in the telemedicine and remote patient monitoring segments and there will undoubtedly be some winners and losers. However, once the dust settles and consolidation occurs, the healthcare space will be better off. The ability to have doctor visits remotely and be able to monitor patients while they are at home is powerful. With this technology, hospitals and health plans will be able to reduce cost, risk and readmissions and, most importantly, save lives.
In conclusion, I feel this market is too siloed and needs a better understanding and exposure to the rest of the healthcare IT market. My advice for companies in this space would be to attend next year’s HIMSS conference in Chicago. I think doing so would be an eye-opening experience that would be extremely beneficial to this market’s inevitable growth. The better companies in this space understand how they fit into the bigger picture of healthcare, the better chance they will have to make it in both the short and long term.
Norman Volsky is director of mobile healthcare IT practice for Direct Recruiters, Inc. of Solon, OH.