Conference phone maker hopes to capture hospitals' attention with its RealPresence Practice Cart, which aims to bring cost-effective care to remote patients.
IW 500: 10 Healthcare IT Innovators
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With the push nationwide to find more cost-effective approaches to healthcare, telemedicine has taken center stage as a potential player. Polycom, usually associated with tabletop conference phones, has entered the market in a big way, recently announcing the release of its RealPresence Practitioner Cart 8000, an ergonomic telemedicine cart designed to help clinicians better meet the needs of remote patients.
Healthcare reform and other cost-cutting initiatives are requiring organizations across the country to accelerate their telemedicine capabilities -–something Ron Emerson, global director of healthcare at Polycom, recognized during the development of its RealPresence Cart, which meets the latest FDA Class 1 Medical Device Data System (MDDS) requirements.
In an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, Emerson emphasized that "it's key to bring technology to the patient point of care."
Polycom partnered with Rubbermaid to develop the cart, allowing Polycom to "provide something specific to the telehealth field itself, which includes providing high quality video at some of the lowest bandwidths."
High-definition video is one feature of the cart, along with embedded encryption in the device to meet HIPAA requirements. Things like CAT scans, Emerson said, are encrypted as well, allowing users to meet HIPAA requirements regardless of location network or device type.
The workflows and ergonomics specific to telehealth played a key part in developing the cart, Emerson explained. But arguably more important than its size, he continued, is its ability to plug into the appropriate medical device, based on which clinical application is needed. According to Emerson, the cart can plug into any type of scope, such as a stethoscope or otoscope, with a standards-based connection. "We have an interface plate we connect in," he said, which allows the clinician, depending on his or her clinical specialty, to provide an assessment from a distance, "with an interface from the cart that's made for those types of medical devices."
Harry Greenspun, MD, senior advisor for healthcare transformation and technology at the Deloitte Center for Healthcare Solutions, agreed that value lies in the level of sophistication telemedicine systems like the Polycom cart offer to clinicians. Prior to the shift to accountable care models, though, he said, the industry wasn't at the point where this type of technology made sense.
"Unless physicians were reimbursed for doing telemedicine visits, they weren't going to do it," he said. "As we move toward accountable care payment for outcomes and value, suddenly a lot of this technology makes sense because it improves the efficiency of care in lower-cost settings."
"Only recently have people [said], 'You know what? We should use this stuff,'" Greenspun continued. "And that's what's getting interesting in the innovation community these days."
Additionally, there's real value in a technology that can, "do things, like plug in a stethoscope or an otoscope, or a special digital camera," said Greenspun. "The more sophisticated a unit you have, the more things you can do with it."
But in other ways, Greenspun added, the more restrictive it is. These high-end tools often restrict clinicians to practicing in a certain environment, both in terms of location and the type of technology the patient is using. A doctor can use a tool like Skype, for instance, to see patients virtually anywhere, but she can use carts only in an office setting, and they require patients to have the technology on their end for it to be useful. "That's the restriction," said Greenspun.
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