This is the week when Gary Shapiro is a very busy man. As the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association and official ringmaster of the International CES, Shapiro has plenty to keep him occupied as Bill Clinton, Arianna Huffington, and Snooki prowl the halls of the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center. Just imagine throwing a 5-day party in Las Vegas for 150,000 of your friends and you’re the primary host.
Yet, there he was yesterday in a small, nondescript side room off the exhibit floor introducing a panel discussion on a topic of increasing importance to his group and the high tech world in general – telemedicine. Shapiro’s presence signals that digital healthcare and the use of technology tools to remotely treat patients may finally have arrived. “This technology is coming on like a storm,” proclaimed Jon Linkous, one of the panelists and CEO of the American Telemedicine Association.
Some would argue that it’s about time. The healthcare profession in general and doctors in particular have been notoriously slow to embrace the high tech revolution. Even today, patient privacy and security concerns severely limit the electronic transmission of one single medical record between physicians. But patients themselves, especially those in rural areas or on warfront battlefields, are finding power in their push for remote monitoring and treatment. And the amount of technology tools and gadgets available for this service is growing.
There are several of these new technologies on display this week at CES. HealthSpot set up a kiosk to showcase its telehealth platform where real-time vitals, patient data, and images of the patient can be transmitted “live” to a physician. At the iRobot booth, a robotic nurse equipped with a stethoscope and ultrasound capability can transmit information to a doctor thousands of miles away using a telemedicine system developed by inTouch Health.
And earlier this week, Independa announced that its CloudCare suite of products, which include wireless health, remote monitoring and safety solutions, would now be available on LG television sets and Samsung tablet computers. “Consumers want convenience,” said John Jesser, vice president of provider engagement at WellPoint.
Perhaps even more significant is that more than 1500 retail clinics at major drug store chains such as CVS and Walgreens are starting to use telemedicine technology. And last fall, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic extended its growing telehealth services to include a stroke treatment program on Navajo lands in the desert of central Arizona. Both the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University have operated telemedicine programs for the past seven years.
The presence of big tech companies such as Samsung and major healthcare providers like the Mayo Clinic are giving the telehealth field much-needed credibility. “We used to be the wackos in the room,” Leslie Kelly Hall of Healthwise told CES attendees yesterday. “Now, we’re not.”
But as the Telemedicine Association’s Linkous is quick to point out, the current groundswell of support for telehealth in states across the U.S. and the rise of new technologies are really just window dressing. For him and his members, the real payback is in the results that matter most. “It’s not about the gadgets,” said Linkous. “It’s about saving lives.”