August 27, 2015

Symposium sheds light on potential of telemedicine

For patients suffering from a stroke, the key to a positive outcome often hinges on how quickly they can receive a brain-saving medical intervention.

For patients suffering from a stroke, the key to a positive outcome often hinges on how quickly they can receive a brain-saving medical intervention.

That can be a challenge for patients who live far from a regional medical center with neurologists on call to treat urgent neurological conditions. But in recent years it’s become easier through advancements with video-conferencing technology to bring the neurologist to the patient.

That was just one of the topics discussed by a group of physician leaders, lawmakers and health care executives who gathered at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last week for a Telehealth Symposium.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black speaks at last week’s Telehealth Symposium at Vanderbilt. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The symposium, hosted by the Department of Neurology, was put on to provide an opportunity for the leaders to discuss the potential of telemedicine and how it could reshape the patient care landscape.

C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System, told those gathered at the symposium that telemedicine has the potential to improve care and access for patients and bring down costs.

“The focus of today is to think about how to apply this technology more effectively than we have in the past to more areas and reach some of the potentials we’ve talked about — better access, lower cost and better quality of care,” Pinson said.

Advancements in technology and increased use of telemedicine across the country have prompted a discussion of how stakeholders such as health systems, government regulators and health payers can best work together, said Ken Gaines, M.D., the physician director of Neuroscience Telemedicine at Ochsner Health System in Louisiana, who moderated the symposium.

“So that was kind of the design behind this symposium, to bring all of those people together to think about some of these issues,” Gaines said.

Tennessee Rep. Cameron Sexton takes part in the discusstion at the symposium. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Among those who joined in the discussion at the symposium were David Charles, M.D., professor of Neurology and director of Telemedicine at Vanderbilt, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, State Rep. Cameron Sexton, Clay Phillips, vice president of Network Innovation at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, and Mike Zanolli, M.D., of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.

Charles, who is also vice-chair of Neurology, highlighted Vanderbilt’s successful telemedicine partnership with affiliated health centers that allows neurologists at Vanderbilt to be on call 24 hours a day to provide remote consultations for patients with urgent neurological conditions, such as stroke, seizure or severe headache.

“We’re able to bring that neurologist into the community closest to that patient,” Charles said.
In the years ahead, Charles said he expects to see telemedicine technology migrate to mobile phones and wearable health trackers.

Black discussed measures she’s backed in Congress to provide more and improved reimbursements for telemedicine services.

She said her goal is to try to help other lawmakers understand more about the advantage of telemedicine.

“My bills in Congress are to say, ‘look, let’s recognize the benefits of this,’” Black said. “It’s really a payment issue for me. It’s trying to help my colleagues understand the importance of this in their own towns. And this is catching on. More and more people are hearing about it.”