Telehealth: Vendors put out HME feelers

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Does telehealth represent a revolution in health care that HME providers should be positioning themselves for, or is it a pie-in-the-sky idea that falls short in terms of practical application, financial support and industry acceptance?
AAHomecare recently hosted a teleconference to weigh those questions and more. The session featured a panel that included representatives from two telehealth manufacturers offering their views on how HME providers can capitalize on what is being touted as a new frontier for health care.
Telehealth manufacturers appear poised for a full-scale push into the homecare market and are currently examining supply chain options. HME providers are among those being considered as potential distributors of the equipment, said conference participants.
"We are receptive to the idea of having HME providers work with us," said Dr. Pramod Gaur, president and CEO of Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Viterion Telehealthcare. "There are two reasons why HME represents good synergy for us as a distributor--one is that they have a fixed infrastructure and have existing relationships with the home health agencies, visiting nurses and hospitals in the community. The other is that they are already providing delivery and setup services to patients' homes."
Still, HME is only one of various supply channel avenues manufacturers are reviewing, said Dr. Charles Jacobus, president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Cybernet Medical.
"Several strategies are being looked at," he said. "One manufacturer may favor an HME distribution model, another may want to contract directly with customers. But when you consider who has the best relationships with doctors and hospitals, it's the HME provider. They have a geographical monopoly."
Already in limited usage across the country, telehealth equipment is designed to let healthcare professionals monitor chronically ill patients remotely by checking vital signs and other health status measurements. By keeping a close watch on patients from a distance, physicians, hospitals and home health agencies can minimize the number of direct interventions, thus generating significant cost savings, telehealth proponents contend.
Skeptics, however, point to the fact that public and private payers are not offering any reimbursement dollars for telehealth services and that healthcare professionals may be reluctant to purchase capital equipment that so far has not demonstrated an obvious return on investment.
In legislative circles, the telehealth concept is gaining momentum and support from Capitol Hill, which could eventually open doors for future reimbursement, said Ann Howard, AAHomecare's director of federal policy.