Former national health IT coordinator moves to the vendor side, aims to use high-speed mobile data infrastructure to give patients more care options.
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Former national health IT coordinator Dr. Robert Kolodner has been named VP and CMO of ViTel Net, a McLean, Va.-based telehealth and mobile health services company. This is his first venture into the vendor world after more than three decades of government service and, more recently, work with an open-source health IT software. But in some ways, the move represents a return to an earlier point in his career -- and the maturation of the telehealth market.
Kolodner coordinated telehealth at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the mid-1990s, promoting the technology and explaining its potential to Congress. "It's fun to come back around … at time when it's ready to move to that next level of adoption," Kolodner told InformationWeek Healthcare this week at the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) annual conference in Austin, Texas.
ViTel Net offers several kinds of telehealth technologies, including mobile telemedicine kits for first responders, mobile patient monitoring, online patient visits and traditional telemedicine service between fixed points. ViTel Net's founder and CEO, Allen Izadpanah, just completed a term on the ATA board of directors.
"I didn't expect myself to be joining a technology company," Kolodner said, but now he sees the landscape has changed even from when he left ONC in 2009. He pointed out that the infrastructure of high-speed mobile data and video technology is in place so telehealth can flourish on smartphones, tablets, and wireless monitoring devices. "[This new infrastructure] lets people get care anywhere, anytime."
"This particular technology can help accelerate the shift from provider-centric to patient-centric healthcare," Kolodner explained. "Healthcare was patient-centric when doctors made house calls. This enables us to actually make virtual house calls."
In many ways, this is similar to the current state of electronic health records (EHRs). Kolodner ran ONC from September 2006 until April 2009, in the pre-Meaningful Use days, when the office, created in 2004, really was just getting up to speed. Now, as providers nationwide achieve Stage 1 of Meaningful Use, the infrastructure is being built for transforming care in future stages of the federal EHR incentive program.
It also mirrors some of the work Kolodner did at the VA, where he was chief health informatics officer, directing development of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) EHR and the related My HealtheVet patient portal before being named interim ONC chief. (Kolodner got a permanent appointment in April 2007, and stepped down two years later when Barack Obama named Dr. David Blumenthal to the post at the beginning of his presidency.)
Kolodner recalled conversations he had between 2000 and 2002 with Gary Christopherson, then the CIO of the VA's Veterans Health Administration, about giving VA beneficiaries the ability to ask health questions online at 3 a.m., get an answer, and be back in bed by 3:10. Today, telehealth is an integral part of care at the VA.
A year ago, the department eliminated the copayment for patients of VA health who receive care at home by videoconference from VA health professionals. This year, the Obama administration is asking Congress to appropriate $460 million for home telehealth, 4.4% more than in 2012.
In the private sector -- and with ViTel -- Kolodner foresees the telehealth rapidly becoming "parallel to the choices now available in banking," where customers have all kinds of options, including ATMs, the telephone, online, mobile apps and in-person service, thanks to the Internet and the mobile data infrastructure. "We're really going to give people more choice about where and how they engage with the healthcare system," he said.
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