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Moving Away from “Pilotitis” and Jargon: Observations from ATA 2015

Wide-scale telemedicine adoption is coming, and the healthcare industry needs to get on board or get left behind… at least that’s what we saw and heard at the 20th Annual Telemedicine Meeting & Trade Show (ATA) held recently in Los Angeles.

If your organization is not involved – or not planning to get involved – in telemedicine, you’re likely already behind. Gone are the days when only a handful of providers were using telemedicine. Instead, we’re seeing it being used on a much broader scale – beyond the state of “pilotitis,” as one of our clients used to call it.

Messaging redundancy and jargon galore

Telemedicine is not a description for a single thing, yet reading booth banners and hearing companies describe their telehealth solutions at ATA, you’d think otherwise. “Telemedicine” encompasses many things – from virtual clinics and mhealth to remote patient monitoring and nurse call centers. At the show, we noticed that rather than focusing efforts to really home in on what differentiates a company from the pack, companies too often used large amounts of jargon, making it more difficult (not easier) to figure out the difference from one solution to the next.

Terms like “connect,” “efficiency”, “end-to-end solution,” “population management,” and “patient engagement” were overused and undefined. My colleague Shannon McIntyre Hooper saw the same jargonpalooza at HIMSS 2015.

There’s opportunity for telehealth vendors to throw jargon out the window, improve upon messaging, and set themselves apart – not just from their competitors, but from all telemedicine providers.

It’s time to get on board

From health systems, to health plans and large employers, to state governments – telemedicine is gaining attention across the board as a way to improve patient access to care and reduce or contain the cost of care.

In a panel presentation featuring Dr. Kristi Henderson, Chief Telehealth & Innovation Officer at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and executives from Intel-GE Care Innovations and C Spire, I heard about a unique public-private partnership between the State of Mississippi, UMMC, and technology partners to help patients with diabetes better manage their condition. Mississippi – a state usually at the bottom of national health rankings – is improving the health of its citizens by using telemedicine. Dr. Henderson mentioned they’re not just stopping at diabetes, and will look to use the remote care management program to help manage other chronic conditions that drive up costs.

Large employers are also building telemedicine into their employee benefits programs. A recent Towers Watson survey found that 37 percent of employers are expecting to offer telemedicine by 2015, and another 34 percent said they are considering it for 2016 or 2017. Virtual care visits can be a good alternative to ER, urgent care center, and physician office visits for non-emergency care. Telemedicine provides employers with an opportunity to save money on medical costs, as well as in the time it takes employees to visit the doctor during work hours.

More data, please

What also was clear in many of the ATA presentations geared toward proving telemedicine ROI, was the lack of standards against which to judge such things as quality, viability, and effectiveness. In a panel titled, “Understanding Direct to Consumer Urgent Care Telemedicine,” featuring speakers from Carena, Optum, and HEALTHePRACTICES, the audience heard data points showing successes in virtual urgent care clinics. Based on the questions voiced during that session, it appears the industry is hungry for additional positive data points that prove care provided by telemedicine is the same or higher quality, the same or lower cost, etc. compared to care delivered in more traditional care settings.

How can you stand out?

This year’s ATA shined a bright light on the need for companies in the space to pursue creative, new, jargon-free approaches to defining themselves and their solutions to help buyers and patients alike understand what they do and the value they provide. To get the process started, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What makes your company different?
  • How do customers describe what they value most about your services.
  • How would you describe what you do to a 5-year-old?
  • Is there something unique or different about your culture or your philosophy or the process you follow to deliver your services?
  • What’s the one thing you do better than anyone else?
  • What data do you have that can help you stand out?

Look to other industries, too. What brands do you most admire? What are they doing or saying that gets your attention? So often, we spend so much time looking at what the competition is doing that we begin to sound just like them. The real trick is, how to sound unlike your competion.

June 18, 2016
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