With 83% of healthcare executive leaders planning to invest in telehealth this year, it’s no surprise that this year’s American Telemedicine Association (ATA) annual conference was alive with excitement, innovative technologies and hot startups.

Having attended the ATA conference many times in the past, I took note of several trends and applications of telemedicine that garnered the most excitement. One of the biggest takeaways was the simple fact that patients love telemedicine – and providers are taking notice. Telemedicine is changing the game in how healthcare is delivered. Patients can get the services they need when they want them, where they want and how they want them.

Here are some of the other hot topics seen and heard at this year’s conference.

The need for guidelines and best practices

One oft-repeated topic was the need for telehealth guidelines and best practices. Many providers who are new to telemedicine are seeking a “jumping off point.” They are looking for information on how to get started in telemedicine, how to measure quality and where to find resources around best practices.

Luckily, the Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) exist solely to provide assistance, education and information to those interested in telemedicine. The TRCs are federally funded, so the assistance they provide is generally free of charge. Every provider interested in implementing a telemedicine program should reach out to their regional TRC. In fact, we recently highlighted the tremendous impact that one of the TRCs is having in the northwest.

Technology takes a back seat

While the exhibit hall was hopping with plenty of hardware demonstrations, the dominating theme was that it’s not about the technology. The industry has truly moved from speeds and feeds to meeting the needs of patients and providers. As discussed in our recent podcast, providers and patients want technology to be seamless and intuitive – truly integrated into the flow of healthcare delivery, so that they can focus on what’s important.

Collaboration is required across the industry

For the technology to be seamless and integrated into healthcare workflows, the general consensus, and a hot topic at #ATA2017, is that vendors need to work together to break down technology silos.

One prime example was highlighted in a session with Polycom’s Karl Hotz, Executive Director Global Alliances, discussing their upcoming integration with electronic health records (EHR) vendors. This kind of integration allows providers to offer virtual visits via their patient portal. This allows patients to consult with their doctor or specialist from their homes or local clinic via a familiar, simple interface.

This is important because integration means providers and other healthcare organizations can make the technologies part of their established workflows more easily. Patients gain the benefit and ease of access, which ultimately results in better, more consistent care.

Telepsychiatry is a no-brainer

One application of telemedicine that has seen tremendous growth and has the potential for tremendous impact on patient’s lives is telepsychiatry or telemental health – behavioral and mental health provided via distance.

Unfortunately, we have a critical shortage of mental health professionals across the country, and often the patients most in need of care go without treatment or struggle to access it. With the power of videoconferencing, patients can be easily connected to providers regardless of geography. Like South Carolina’s Department of Mental Health, many states are implementing programs to reach those most in need of care.

Show me the money

One of the biggest hurdles expressed by many providers looking to implement or expand their telemedicine programs is funding. Grant funding is often an option, especially for those reaching out to rural or underserved populations. However, grants can be daunting. Many are difficult to maneuver and the application process itself is difficult to manage.

Fortunately, there are resources out there like the Polycom Grant Assistance Program (PGAP) to assist organizations in evaluating and securing grant funding. Polycom featured this program at the ATA event this year. PGAP experts joined attendees to discuss needs and grant options. The team offers complimentary grant consulting services and over 20 years in grant experience to help organizations acquire the needed collaboration technologies for telemedicine.

As is usually the case when I leave ATA, I am both inspired and excited to see what the year will bring. More than ever, providers realize the value of telehealth and are committed to expanding their services to improve patient outcomes. I hope you’ll stay tuned, as I’m sure we’ll be highlighting some of those successes in the coming months here on The WorkSpace Today.