Full Nelson Video: Cisco's 'Health Presence' Showcase

Cisco is applying its telepresence to healthcare in a compelling effort to lower costs and serve its employees, but it’s also a bid to show a tangible business idea beyond its relentless messaging.

Fritz Nelson, Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

December 10, 2009

3 Min Read

The vision is that the medical system in the cloud has a core data infrastructure comprising three types of data about everyone. There will be a genetic profile, attached to genetic predispositions. Then your physiological condition, captured in your electronic medical record. Finally, your environmental & demographic profile -- where you live, where you work, your travel, what you eat, etc. Using this data, all in your medical profile, all processed in the cloud (for instance, doing predictive modeling on the data), medical professionals can develop personalized plans that help patients alter their lifestyle, treat the patient (preventatively) before symptoms start to emerge or personalize pharmaceutical treatment.

All of the data gets collected, synthesized, renewed, and updated in the cloud, and then the physician of the future can tap into it and acquire services in a meaningful way for his or her practice. The doctor's desktop of the future, Augustinos believes, will comprise a series of subscription, customized services -- for instance, a cardiologist may buy the Mayo protocols for cardiology. Physicians have the freedom to pull the services they need, and those knowledge services are continually evolving and improving. The end result for the patient is treatment personalization, based on the information the system has on the patient and the precision the models can deliver to the physician.

Also, imagine services that act like a call center, where you can route a session dynamically to an expert, who gets a call but also a registration form, or EMR via a Web service. Or imagine a small community hospital without lots of specialists -- a doctor in an ER connects with major tertiary centers that can assist the local practitioner in delivering services to the patient. "Instead of transporting patient to services, we transport the services to the patient," says Augustinos.

Many of these technologies, combined with the personalized form of care, will start to provide the next best thing to seeing a doctor in person -- the 21st century equivalent of a house call. Just grab a camera and a microphone and you can be treated -- especially those who need heart monitoring, or are rehabbing from an injury, or have ongoing cancer care. You can capture medical problems with a Flip, Augustinos says, and if the device is wireless (hint hint) you could send the high-def images to a remote expert. This technique would be especially helpful in underserved areas.

The Payoff
Obviously, Cisco's doing all of this for its own ... ahem, health. The average age of the Cisco employee is 40, the age when health risks start to creep in. The company wants to show off its technology and be a part of the next generation of healthcare delivery, but it also wants is employees to actively manage their health. By offering primary medical care, pediatrics, lab services, and a pharmacy, the company is making it convenient enough for most employees to take advantage. Cisco told me that a majority of employees are male and don't have a relationship with a doctor. Not only do the employees save, the company saves, productivity improves, and employees are more satisfied overall.

As a self-insured company, Cisco knows what it's paying its doctors. So instead of paying claims, now it pays its own staff, and the more it drives business to its facility, the better it does. With an aging workforce (and Cisco says its employee retention is at 90%), demands on the system will increase, and the costs of care come right off the bottom line. Augustinos told me that Cisco modeled the business to pay back all of the capital costs within three years. You can get there quicker, he says, by adequate staffing and optimal usage.

But it sure sounds good. Hell, it even feels good. In one fell swoop you can suddenly imagine where telepresence can take us and where health care is going. Stat.

About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

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