Scott PfisterThe use of collaborative technology to deliver healthcare has been around since the early 1960s, when NASA used telemetry devices to monitor astronauts’ vital signs during space flights. The proliferation of these technologies into everyday use, however, has been slow.

With the costs of collaborative technology decreasing and the technology improving, telemedicine is now gaining widespread acceptance as an important tool for healthcare providers and patients.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Scott Pfister, an account manager with Public Sector View sponsor, AVI-SPL. Scott works with healthcare organizations and providers to deploy collaborative technologies. Here is what he had to say:

PSV: What changed in the healthcare delivery and payment system to make collaborative technology more widespread?

Mr. Pfister: We’re finally getting insurance companies and Medicaid to reimburse physicians for telemedicine visits. Without reimbursement, telemedicine cannot grow. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reimbursing for telemedicine visits and across North Carolina, telepsychiatry is being reimbursed. We’re getting healthcare professionals to treat patients that were previously neglected in rural parts of the country because of the lack of telemedicine reimbursement.

In addition, government policies restrict reimbursement if a patient is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days for the same issue. Because of this, hospitals are incentivized to do more preventive aftercare. Telemedicine is a cost-effective way to make sure patients are following directions, don’t have questions, and that extended family members are aware of the situation. Especially with aging populations, it’s important to make sure people are following directions and being compliant.

PSV: How can collaboration tools help insurers better manage high-risk populations?

Mr. Pfister: With telemedicine you can do home visits over video and be proactive with how you approach high-risk populations. If it’s diabetes, for example, you can easily have a video call with a dietician to a group of at-risk patients. Whether it’s using an inexpensive mobile device or home video, if a patient is in touch regularly with a dietician, they can be more conscious of their diet, have questions answered, and get encouragement to improve their health and their habits. Overall, it’s going to be less expensive and better for the insurance provider and certainly better for the patient.

PSV: Managing rising healthcare costs is always an issue. What are some of the ways that collaboration tools help reduce costs?

Mr. Pfister: One setting where I see the technology being used and where I think there’s a lot of value is senior assisted-living facilities. Patients in these facilities, where you have an LPN or CNA on-site, can do a telemedicine visit with a specialist, such as a neurologist or dermatologist, rather than being transported to the hospital or clinic. Transporting patients is extremely expensive. The ability of telemedicine to treat these patients in their locations eliminates a tremendous expense for insurance companies.

Another example is with telestroke. Hospitals are now using video telemedicine to keep neurologists, whether they’re on staff or not, available to do an evaluation when someone walks into the emergency room with a potential stroke. Minutes really count with a stroke. The faster drugs are administered to a stroke victim, the greater the likelihood of a successful patient outcome, and that means shorter hospitalization, extended care, or rehabilitation.

PSV: How do collaboration tools meet regulatory requirements like HIPAA and the need to protect patient privacy?

Mr. Pfister: The collaboration tools in use today are all highly protected with an advanced encryption system (AES). No information is stored on the devices, so it’s a secure point-to-point communication. When the call ends, there is no record retained of it.

PSV: What is the benefit of telemedicine programs for health insurers?

Mr. Pfister: They will have overall lower costs associated with providing care. They will be able to provide better access to care for those who live in rural locations and can see specialists without having to travel. And finally, I think that there is the potential for shorter hospitalization and quicker recovery times.

PSV: What do you think is the future of telemedicine and why is it important for health insurers to keep up with the technology?

Mr. Pfister: I think we are just scratching the surface with the applications of telemedicine. I think you’re going to see a lot more telemedicine advances come out.

It’s important for health insurers to keep up with the technology because they need to know what is available and push their providers and their patients to use this technology to become healthier. Whether it’s a phone application that’s going to measure blood sugar if you’re a diabetic or measure heart palpitations if you’re a heart patient, there are definitely going to be ways to use technology to make sure patients stay within appropriate ranges and alert you if there is a potential issue.

Ultimately, the advances in telemedicine will be more beneficial to providers because they can have people treated earlier and with less catastrophic consequences.

For additional information on how video collaboration solutions can be used in a healthcare environment, listen to the Webinar, “Advance Patient-Centered Care with Collaboration,” with Dr. Deborah Jeffries.