While telemedicine has long focused on caring for patients in rural areas, it is increasingly being used in urban care as well. Telemedicine started out 40 years ago extending care to remote areas, but today it is being integrated into the daily operations of hospitals and physician offices everywhere.

Urban telemedicine was discussed at the recent American Telemedicine Association (ATA) annual meeting, which drew more than 3,000 attendees to Los Angeles for a conference and trade show. As one attendee reports, energy at the conference was high, especially following recent and ongoing legislative progress for telemedicine at the state and federal levels (more on this next week).

It is useful to explain exactly what we mean by “telemedicine,” since we talk so much about similar ideas like mHealth and health information technology. While HIT usually refers to electronic medical records and health information exchange (HIE) systems, telemedicine refers to the actual delivery of remote clinical services using technology. This could include, as the ATA explains, “Patient consultations via video conferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education, consumer-focused wireless applications and nursing call centers, among other applications…”

While implementation of these technologies usually takes place through big healthcare providers (Mercy recently broke ground on a $50 million telemedicine hub), the technology and innovation often come from small companies and startups.

One example from the recent ATA meeting involves Ideal Life Inc. and telemedicine analytics vendor Sentorian, who are both supplying services for an initiative by California-based insurance provider network CareMore. CareMore is piloting a project to manage population health using Sentorian’s Remote Patient Intelligence System to identify the worst cases of pulmonary obstructive disease from a pool of patients in mostly urban areas. Using sensors from Ideal Life Inc., CareMore hopes that monitoring patient health remotely can help them provide better care and keep patients out of the hospital.

Mobius Health is in a similar position as a small company designing innovative telemedicine services for use in hospitals and clinics. We’ve recently been meeting with local physicians and practice managers to see how Mobius can provide a mobile interface for their services. For example, physicians will use Mobius to capture clinical photos, important relevant imaging studies, and capture vital sign info directly from patient monitors.
Telemedicine is becoming a routine part of urban care, but we still need its services in rural areas. There are about 6,000 federally designated areas with a shortage of primary care doctors in the U.S., and telemedicine is still helping to address this shortage.

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