AVI Systems CTO Brad Sousa sat down with Polycom’s WorkSpace Today to talk about what’s going on in the telehealth field as a part of their ongoing podcast series.
With over 20 years of industry experience, Sousa has worked mostly with enterprise systems in health care, education and global corporations, along with the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Energy.
In light of AVI LIVE Chicago this May, which has a specific emphasis on telehealth, Sousa and WorkSpace Today talked through the changing landscape.
Here’s some of what they covered:
Kicking off the podcast, the discussion went into which factors have caused some of the biggest changes within the industry.
Sousa told WorkSpace Today that one of the leading factors has been the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, because it forced “efficiencies” in telehealth, which then led to changes that have rippled throughout the industry.
“Obamacare, in particular, has driven changes in a way that health care providers are providing health care,” he said. “It’s forced a lot of new kinds of techniques and how health care providers are run these days.”
Working with AVI Systems, he explained that it’s common to sit down with a health care provider and hear that they’re building a call center. The main focus of that call center is to provide a specific service within the industry that other facilities or providers might not have.
“That kind of idea of having so many network affiliate partners in providing health care, having call centers where [doctors] meet with somebody else’s patient,” he continued. “That’s pretty new.”
This form of delivering health care is a way of serving the communities in which these providers are located. This year, 70 percent of employers plan to offer telemedicine services, AVI Systems reported in a past blog.
In an interview with AVI Systems, Polycom Senior Marketing Manager Kerry Best identifies convenience as one of the biggest benefits of telemedicine, especially to patients who live in more rural areas, which is made more important as many rural hospitals are being forced to close.
“There might not be a specialist for hundreds of miles,” Best said. “[Patients] can go to their local clinic and see a specialist over video, versus having to drive two hours and take off work.”
If patients are forced to drive long distances, they might not seek care at all. “They might not get the care they really need,” she said.
For patients who live in areas where access is scarce, telemedicine makes receiving care more convenient and accessible. And that applies to all stages of the process. It makes it easier for patients to seek initial care, and follow up after exams or surgery. And the benefits of telehealth aren't just for patients.
“It’s provider to provider as well,” Best said, explaining that doctors from around the country can connect through networks to discuss patient care and education.
If there’s a new procedure or best practice, Best explained that rural providers and staff can learn about a new practice more quickly. “They need to hear and learn about it so they can apply it,” she said. Telehealth technology is what makes that possible.
Sousa said the efficiencies of telehealth grant more opportunities for care, and they relate directly to the quality of care. “The accessibility, as well as the quality of care, has actually gone up,” he said.
The difference between a more traditional doctor’s visit and one in the era of telehealth is stark. Before, you got in your car, drove to the doctor’s office and went through your visit. That’s changed.
By 2018, it’s estimated that there will be 7 million telemedicine patients, while four years ago, there were about 350,000. With increases like this, the way patients will receive care in the coming years won’t look the same as it once did.
“Today the concept is, I go home, maybe I have a tablet that the health care provider has given me, and it’s taking my vital signs every morning,” Sousa explained. “It’s giving me a little bit of tutorial and instruction on how to care for whatever my condition is.”
In addition to instruction, the capability of sitting in your own home and meeting with your doctor is realized through video calls. This means of virtual communication and visitation is expected to spread throughout the industry too, he said.
When it comes to the expansion of visual collaboration, that’s largely because of cloud-based services and technology that works together seamlessly. This affects the way patients receive care and how medical professionals collaborate.
“The language of health care is really transformative into these images and things that we watch and observe,” he said. “And so, because of that, visual collaboration as a whole is also driving new changes in how we provide that treatment.”
Sousa explained that there’s a shortage of trained pharmacists in the U.S., affecting how fast some patients receive care. Before doctors and nurses prescribe medicine, they want to review the patient’s file. Given the shortage, there can be long waiting periods before a pharmacist becomes available.
“Often, that patient will walk in with a Ziploc bag of whatever they’re taking,” Sousa said. Finding out this information can be done differently, though. Instead of patients carrying in a bag of medicine, pharmacists can collaborate with others through cloud-based solutions or video conferencing.
“I think what we’re going to begin to see is less and less siloed technology"
By being able to quickly connect with others in these ways, Sousa said that he thinks this will improve the care given. When it comes to the future, the technology, as well as medical professionals, will become more cohesive.
“I think what we’re going to begin to see is less and less siloed technology,” he said. “I think we’re going to see much more of what I call an ecosystem.” As advances in technology continue, Sousa explained that customers are looking for more of an “experience” – something holistic and integrated.
Best, with Polycom, shared this belief. “Now, everything needs to be seamless,” she said. “It’s all about interoperability.”
In health care, she said certain tasks need to be done in specific ways. It’s less about the individual piece of technology, as it is the functionality it brings.
“They’re more focused on the business problem, the patient problem, than the specific product,” she said. “They just want to do what they need to do, regardless of technology.”
Having technology solutions that work together in a flexible, collaborative way will be advantageous in numerous ways too. “I see that breaking down a lot of barriers, especially barriers around borders,” Sousa said. “And I think the patient is really going to benefit from that.”
To find out the rest of what Sousa and WorkSpace Today discussed, listen to the podcast here. You can also listen to more of Sousa’s insight at AVI LIVE in Chicago, where he’ll open the event with a keynote address at 8:30 a.m. on May 3.