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Cisco Builds More Mobility Into Telehealth Platform

HealthPresence 2.0 enables video consultations through laptops, mobile carts, and desktops in low-bandwidth rural areas, but still falls short of competitors' products.

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Cisco Systems has introduced the latest version of its Cisco HealthPresence technology, a telehealth tool that can now be used with mobile carts, desktops, and laptops. Company officials say the added features will both satisfy doctors' needs, as well as position the technology to better compete in the growing telehealth market, where Cisco faces fierce competition from companies like Polycom and American Well.

Unveiled Monday, the upgraded Cisco HealthPresence system will help physicians, specialists, and other clinicians connect the videoconferencing tool to a broader array of mobile technology devices. The new features also promise to provide easier access to clinical information, enhance security and privacy of medical information, and give users more business-to-business functionality.

"After the introduction of Cisco HealthPresence version 1.0 we learned a lot about what the market was asking us for and version 2.0 is an answer to some of the requests from our customers," Kathy English, director of Cisco's healthcare practice, told InformationWeek Healthcare.

[Today's mobile devices have transformed medical care in unprecedented ways. For an in-depth look at exactly how clinicians are using these tools, tune into the InformationWeek Healthcare Webcast The Mobile Point of Care: Making the Right Choices.]

Upgrades to Cisco HealthPresence include:

-- Mobile cart integration with the Cisco TelePresence System Clinical Presence to allow for specialist consults at the point of care;

-- A desktop tool to allow for telehealth consultations in remote locations with low bandwidth availability; and

-- Interoperability between TelePresence supported endpoints (CTS 500-37, CTS EX 60/EX 90, and CTS C40/C20).

According to English, the significant change is that Cisco has expanded its video endpoints to include a mobile tool that can accommodate different types of patient and clinician scenarios.

"Integration with a mobile cart is going to allow us to bring the specialist to the patient at the point of care, whether they are on a stretcher or at the bedside or at any location within a clinic or hospital," English said. "We also offer a desktop solution so that when we are in areas where there is a low bandwidth requirement and/or a patient who's perhaps in a rural community where there is not a lot of connectivity, we'll be able to allow the patient and physician to connect over distances through a laptop and a videocamera and, of course, have the medical devices [such as stethoscopes and otoscopes], connected as we did in version 1.0."

However, Cisco's latest telehealth system in many ways falls short of products from Polycom and American Well, whose technology already allows physicians, specialists, and patients to conduct videoconferencing sessions over desktops, laptops, and even tablet devices. English noted that the latest version of the Cisco HealthPresence system cannot be used with tablets, such as Apple's iPad, but noted that in the future the company will be looking at "adding on additional types of endpoints."

In the meantime, Irene Berlinsky, IDC's senior research analyst covering multiplay services, told InformationWeek Healthcare that Cisco is taking steps to ensure its HealthPresence 2.0 system remains competitive and relevant with other healthcare videoconferencing offerings.

"The desktop solution is especially significant. If it indeed provides quality transmission in areas with low bandwidth, Cisco can take the solution where it's needed the most--rural areas where videoconferencing can do the most good, but are often areas with few high-speed Internet options," Berlinsky said.

Other improvements to the Cisco HealthPresence system that enhance collaboration and clinical workflow include:

-- an application programming interface (API) with popular electronic medical records (EMR) systems;

-- a chat tool to enable quick, highly secure communication among remote experts;

-- ePen integration for writing electronic prescriptions; and

-- Appointment queuing for patient prioritization and appointment management.

"We've delivered an API to integrate the EMR because doctors said they wanted to be able to access the patient's record and have the data that's collected during the encounter update to the system," English said.

She also noted that in the past, communication between clinical staff during a videoconferencing consultation would occur only through the video and audio capabilities within the HealthPresence system, which meant patients would hear everything that was said. By adding the chat collaboration tool, doctors can communicate with members of the clinical team at the other end of the videconferencing session without the patient knowing what is being discussed.

Cisco's latest telehealth tool is being used at Nashville, Tenn., MissionPoint Health Partners, a pilot program launched in August with several partners including Saint Thomas Health Services, Cisco, Crimson Services, YMCA of Middle Tennessee, and Applied Health Analytics.

"With a shortage of medical professionals in our underserved communities in Tennessee, the Cisco HealthPresence solution bridges the gap between patients in rural areas and physicians or specialists who aren't always available locally," Jason Dinger, CEO of MissionPoint Health Partners, a division of Saint Thomas Health, said in a statement.

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