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AT&T Moves Aggressively Into Remote Patient Monitoring

AT&T inks deal with Valued Relationships Inc. to provide chronically ill patients with a remote monitoring service that connects them to caregivers.

Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare
Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare
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As AT&T continues to expand its services into the telehealth market, the company has signed an agreement with Valued Relationships Inc. (VRI) to deliver a remote patient monitoring service to more effectively manage chronic diseases and help reduce hospital readmissions. The end-to-end managed service is scheduled to launch in the third quarter of 2012.

Officials at AT&T said the target customers for the service are physician practices, hospitals, and payers (e.g., employers and insurance companies). It is up to the targeted customers to identify and create a list of patients. AT&T will then recruit from this list for the service, on the customers' behalf.

Under the agreement, equipment will be installed in the patient's home that connects to VRI's nurse-staffed telemonitoring center to monitor patients around the clock who suffer from a number of chronic illnesses, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

The system will capture data from wirelessly connected personal health devices, such as blood pressure cuffs, weight scales, and pulse oximeters. Patients then upload the information through AT&T's network to VRI's care representatives.

[For more background on e-prescribing tools, see 6 E-Prescribing Vendors To Watch.]

VRI's advanced analytics tools and reporting capabilities can read patients' vital signs and indicate whether intervention is required. If patients require intervention, care representatives call them to check that the technology is working properly and being used according to clinical protocols, and then arrange the necessary treatment.

Andy Schoonover, CEO of VRI, said the service will help providers and payers manage clinical information and monitor the alerts gathered by the telehealth devices.

"Health plans and hospitals will no longer have to actively monitor the information because VRI's call center will monitor it for them. VRI will only contact them in a case in which a clinician is needed to give the care required to keep them from being hospitalized," Schoonover told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Eleanor Chye, executive director for mobility healthcare and pharma at AT&T Business and Home Solutions, did not give specific pricing details, but she did say the cost for the remote patient monitoring service will depend on the type of service requested.

"The pricing structure for chronic disease management includes a monthly service fee per patient, patient site dispatch fee, and professional services fees," Chye told InformationWeek Healthcare. "The pricing structure for acute care management (hospital readmissions) includes a 30 or 60 day flat fee per patient, patient site dispatch fee, and professional services fees."

Irene Berlinsky, IDC's senior analyst covering multiplay services, said there is a lot riding on this new service. "If this partnership succeeds, AT&T has a new product it can shop around anywhere in its wireless network--which is most of the U.S. VRI gains exposure and gets to be a part of a managed, end-to-end solution rather than a piece of a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle," Berlinsky said.

The new managed service is being introduced at a time when telecommunications companies are aggressively looking for new opportunities to serve the healthcare industry, which is applying new technology to its evolving business model.

At the same time, hospitals are seeking to reduce readmission rates as a way to lower healthcare costs. Research that examined the re-hospitalization rates of Medicare beneficiaries indicates that nearly 20% of Medicare patients are re-hospitalized within 30 days after discharge, at an annual cost of $17 billion.

"Hospital readmissions carry huge costs for hospitals and add greatly to the cost of healthcare. Remote patient monitoring has the potential to prevent many such readmissions," Berlinsky said.

If the AT&T/VRI partnership hopes to succeed in reducing hospital readmissions, they'll have to provide a platform with software that accurately interprets a patient's vital signs.

"The quality of the solution depends on the software used to analyze patient data. If it inaccurately flags problems--or worse, misses them--hospitals may not see the expected savings materialize," Berlinsky added.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)

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