Takeaways from My Interview with ATA’s President

January 24th, 2011
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I had the very fortunate opportunity to meet with Dale Alverson, M.D., Medical Director of the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research at the University of New Mexico and current President of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).   Dr. Alverson has been instrumental in bringing telemedicine to New Mexico for the last several years, and is now actively engaged in bringing telemedicine to the rest of the world.
 
Telemedicine, defined by the ATA, is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status. Closely associated with telemedicine is the term “telehealth,” which is often used to encompass a broader definition of remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services. Videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health (including patient portals), remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.
 

Dr. Alverson presented at the ATA’s Fourth Annual (2010) Mid-Year Meeting in Baltimore this past September.  His presentation was entitled “The Perfect Storm.” He described significant changes occurring – and which will continue to occur – given the current conditions in the U.S. healthcare system and the convergence of some key elements within, including:

     

  • Need for effective and affordable health care
  • Need for access to care
  • Integration of new and emerging technologies

 
Following are excerpts from my interview with Dr. Alverson:
 
Q: What is the significance of telemedicine?
 
A: Telemedicine is becoming a standard of care and is utilized in many healthcare programs including early detection and early intervention programs.
 
There is evidence that telemedicine/telehealth programs have favorable outcomes. One example is the success of a program in New Mexico called the ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), which is led by Sanjeev Arora, M.D.  This program has shown improved outcomes for patients with hepatitis C infection who may not otherwise be able to receive the care and treatment needed for their condition.  Through the ECHO program specialists collaborate with healthcare providers in rural areas of New Mexico and provide quality healthcare to patients living in areas where access to care may otherwise be limited or nonexistent.
 
The ECHO telemedicine model has reached beyond the treatment of hepatitis C to address several other chronic illnesses.  Additionally, the program provides rural practitioners access via videoconferencing to a much larger professional community enabling the rural practitioners to enhance and expand their skills.
 
One of the major funding sources for the ECHO was from AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Dept of Health and Human Services) under THQIT (Transforming Healthcare Quality through Information Technology).
 
There are many other projects developing across the U.S. and many new and innovative technologies in the market.  During this time of urgency to create change in healthcare, there are also many unsolved issues that need to be addressed as telemedicine becomes a standard of care.
 
Q: What role does the ATA play?
 
A: The ATA is the leader in telemedicine.  The organization began in 1993 with the   purpose to create standards, guidelines, and policies and to serve as a resource to distill information to its members.   The ATA works in collaboration with several federal agencies, such as the FDA, FCC, CMS, VA, DOD, as well as with international stakeholders, industry, and others involved in healthcare.
 
Q: What questions still need answers before the full potential of telemedicine can be achieved?

 
A: We need answers to questions such as:

     

  • What are the best devices to use given there are so many and that the technology is changing and improving everyday?
  • Who is reviewing the data coming through the device?
  • How is the data acted upon?
  • What will be done with the data?

 
I was fortunate to talk to Dr. Alverson, a thought leader in telemedicine, and I look forward to sharing additional insights from this rapidly evolving and important segment of the health care sector.
 
Do you feel there are other related questions that should be addressed? If so feel free to make suggestions here, and stay tuned for more information on this critical topic.


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About the Author:

I have 20 years experience in clinical research, including leading diagnostic and pharmaceutical clinical studies in disease areas ranging from cancer to infectious disease to cardiology, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Send me an email.

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