Guide: Telemedicine benefits held back by lack of reimbursements
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Telemedicine and telehealth services -- powered by video conferencing -- are helping the health care industry provide specialist care to patients in medically underserved areas.
The California Telehealth Network (CTN), an organization that focuses on increasing access to health care through the use of telehealth services and technology, recently announced a partnership with TeleMed2U, an exclusively telemedicine-based practice of multi-specialty, board-certified physicians based in Roseville, Calif. TeleMed2U will help provide CTN member sites and patients access to psychiatrists, surgeons, oncologists, infectious disease experts and other specialists via a new Web-based high-definition (HD) video conferencing service, CTN Connect.
CTN Connect -- powered by Vidyo Inc., a Hackensack, N.J.-based video conferencing provider, and Arkadin, a Paris-based collaboration and video conferencing Software as a Service provider -- will enable health care providers to virtually and securely connect with other health care providers or patients using a standard wired or wireless Internet connection.
Telehealth services expanded across California
CTN has spent the last three years expanding health care into the medically underserved and rural areas of California, which makes up 74% of the state, said Eric Brown, president and CEO of CTN.CTN member sites have used broadband connectivity to connect patients with remote clinicians and specialists via legacy video conferencing hardware and telemedicine carts from Polycom, Cisco and LifeSize. While some health care settings call for robust video conferencing platforms, there were many locations that didn't require expensive hardware. "We began looking at the various options for Web-based video conferencing," Brown said.
CTN, in partnership with TeleMed2U, selected Vidyo for its advanced approach to Web-based video conferencing. Last year, across 12 of its health care sites, the CTN began a trial of CTN Connect, which is hosted in the Arkadin cloud.
Now CTN is rolling out the collaboration across all of its 300 locations, serving acute care, critical access and rural hospitals, community, state and county-based health centers and programs, and correctional facilities, skilled nursing facilities and Native American health centers, Brown said. CTN Connect can be used for routine patient visits or for more intensive consultations and exams, including treatments.
Security regulations restrict the health care industry from many video conferencing offerings, but the Vidyo platform has been approved for use by the U.S. Department of Defense and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-regulated facilities, said Joan Vandermate, vice president of marketing for Vidyo. Physicians and patients can have a secure, HD video conferencing experience, regardless of the device they choose.
CTN Connect is interoperable with standards-based legacy video conferencing platforms. It supports the Advanced Encryption Standard over private high-speed networks in order to meet stringent HIPAA and Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) compliance requirements, Vandermate said.
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"The Arkadin Cloud that CTN Connect is hosted in is a completely closed service, so other tenants can't see any data -- like patient information or images -- and it's impossible to hack into a video call," she said.
The CTN is providing one free CTN Connect license to each participating CTN member site, and plans to integrate an online directory of participating CTN sites and physicians that any participant can access for video conferencing immediately from any chosen device.
"Physicians are intrigued by the fact that they can access this service anywhere they have a wired or wireless broadband connection, and even from their mobile devices without having to use complicated or expensive video conferencing equipment," CTN's Brown said.
Video conferencing: Making health care more accessible for patients, easier for physicians
Health care organizations in California can have sites spread out across hundreds of miles. "A primary care or a specialist would have to make the trip to one of our rural clinics once or twice a week, which can become problematic due to inclement weather or heavy traffic," Brown said. "This service allows physicians to be untethered from having to visit the facility, while still being able to see patients with video conferencing."
Clinical teams separated by geography have also improved their coordination of patient care, Brown said. "Many of our sites are going to use [CTN Connect] to conduct virtual staff meetings and training sessions, which we believe will improve patient care," he said.
Javeed Siddiqui, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer of TeleMed2U and an infectious disease specialist who is helping CTN with its statewide rollout of CTN Connect, believes telemedicine should be no different than face-to-face encounters between physicians and patients.
"Our physicians using CTN Connect have been very pleased with the reliable connectivity, video quality and ease of use," Siddiqui said. Aside from giving patients access to quality care, CTN Connect is giving physicians the flexibility to work remotely from their home office or practice, and allows them to schedule telemedicine visits and exams, too, he said.
Patients currently have to be located in a health care setting, such as their primary care physician's office, to take advantage of the video conferencing services with CTN physicians and specialists, but Siddiqui and his organization hope to be able to deliver health care services to patient homes in the future.
"Right now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not recognize the home as an originating site for health care; however, we are hopeful that will change," he said. "That's another reason CTN has chosen the Vidyo platform -- it's flexible for the physician and patient to use."