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Providers Going Through a Learning Curve of Connected Health

February 25, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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Connected healthcare has a ton of potential and is inevitable, providers are just going through a learning curve on how to utilize and capitalize off the different technologies that move patient care beyond the four walls of a traditional practice setting.
Such was the wisdom of Dan Coate, the Fort Lauderdale, Fl.-based principal at Aspen and the Detroit-based Terri Gocsik, senior manager at the company, who both spoke extensively about this topic this week at the HIMSS conference in Orlando. The two discussed telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and patient self-entered data, and the challenges that are preventing wider adoption of these technologies in a clinical setting. 
One of the barriers is just a changing mentality of how medicine is practiced. What Gocsik said is that providers have a cultural bias as to what their patients want. 
"They say, 'My patients want to see me face-to-face. They don't want to have a virtual visit. They don't want to have me respond when my schedule allows, they want it immediate, they want it face-to-face," she said. 
That's not necessarily the reality though, Gocsik added. The traditional model is in their head, but it's a question they are not asking patients. Indeed, a recent survey indicated that up to 75 percent of patients were open to the idea of a virtual visit. Another recent research report predicted the virtual consultation industry was set to explode in growth thanks to consumer interest. 
Coate echoed Gocsik's statements saying it's important to get the expectations of the patient and the provider on the same page. He added that one important issue is figuring how to integrate use of these technologies, such as an eVisit, into the provider's workflow for their electronic medical record (EMR). Citing one physician practice eVisit case study, he said that providers were willing to accept the connected technology, but they weren't willing to do if it wasn't streamlined into the EMR.
The topic of reimbursement is something that providers are focused on. This, of course, has been a well-stated issue for telemedicine. Despite the fact that numerous studies have reported telemedicine's effectiveness in improving the quality of care and cutting costs, it isn't covered in every state for Medicaid patients and in many cases, it's only partially covered. In other cases, there are legal issues with providing care through telemedicine across state lines. 
The bottom line, Gocsik said, is that providers don't want their income affected. Still, despite the fact that laws are needed to ensure providers are reimbursed and don't have to deal with potential legal issues, she foresees progress in telemedicine adoption. 
"They know they have to do it. There are other drivers that will force the into other models of care. For one, the primary care physician shortage. They have to figure something else to do, they can't continue to practice in the same manner. There are not enough hours in the day," Gocsik said. 
In many ways, that encapsulates the connected community at large. Gocsik said that if the primary issues of reimbursement and workflow are solved, then providers will fall in line with connected technologies. Both agree that move into population health management, from both payers and providers, will push it along. Already, they say, leading organizations have begun to test the waters.
"It will follow the S curve of how innovations are defused in a society. We're on the low part and we have not hit the steep slope. With telemedicine, we're getting to that inflection point where the slope has started to take off. For a lot of these other engaged, connected community, we're maybe a year away. But it's inevitable," Coate says.