The market for telemedicine carts is predicted to reach $1.4 billion by 2018. This rapid growth is due to two primary factors, according to a Market Research Store report:
- Tele-health equipment decreases the cost of care.
- This technology improves the quality of care and lifestyle for the patients treated.
How do they figure? Everyone knows that a doctor that sees many patients per week with similar conditions is more likely to provide an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment than one that only sees that condition once a year.
On a wide scale, the only way to connect patients with a specific condition to a clinician expert in treating that condition is with telemedicine. Telemedicine carts enable the broader deployment of services within a hospital or clinic environment. Most recently, this includes widespread adoption by the U.S. veteran’s administration as well as CMS Medicare and Medicaid. In the field, remote locations and hard-to-access venues have been profoundly impacted by the availability of telemedicine carts. With the introduction of carts and kits, portable and mobile tele-clinics are now possible.
The Move To Integrated Solutions
Eric Bacon, Vice President of Operations and Finance at AMD Global Telemedicine, told iTelemedicine that integrated systems have been the growth driver for the telemedicine cart industry during the last five to six years.
In the past, companies like AMD sold equipment to universities or healthcare providers for various applications, but the organizations were on their own to piece together devices and systems to administer telemedicine.
“What’s changed drastically over the last few years is that the user doesn’t want to be responsible for deciding what type of ECG they should buy or what kind of examination camera to use,” Bacon said. “Often times it is grant-based financing or it’s a capital purchase; they have one shot at it, and if they get it wrong their project could fail.”
That’s where AMD now comes in. The company takes time to ascertain the specific needs of an organization, then guides them to the right device set based on those requirements.
”We provide them with an integrated solution, whether it’s on a cart, in a portable case, desktop, or wall-mount system,” Bacon added. “It comes completely configured and documented so when it gets to the location, it’s turnkey and can be supported both remotely or on-site, eliminating the need to tie up their local IT department.”
Current Locations And Applications
Currently, the usual locations for telemedicine carts are in hospitals and remote clinics. Steve Reinecke of Ergotron, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of telemedicine carts, said the most common applications for carts are telestroke and telepsychiatry. However, the company is currently working with integrators to discover wider uses for carts in urgent care areas, most specifically where there are more nurse practitioners than doctors present.
“In this case, it’s the need to bring more patient care services to remote locations by an increase in usage for general medical practices, not just in the specialties,” Reinecke explained. “I believe this trend will be widely adopted by the mainstream in less than five years.”
Other than healthcare environments, Ergotron is also taking integrated telemedicine systems into prisons.
”This is a great use of telemedicine, not only due to the security issues of moving patients to the nearest hospital or clinic, but the cost of prisoner transport can be fairly high as well,” Reineke said. “Handling the nonprocedural interactions inside the prison is cost effective for every prison system.”
In fact, the Legislative Analyst’s Office in California reported that the cost to transport an inmate for medical care was nearly two thousand dollars a day, according to PEW’s 2014 managing prison healthcare spending report.
What new developments might we see in carts in the coming years? Carts are getting smaller, smarter, more mobile, and made to function with a broader range of peripheral devices.
“Since technology continues to become more and more compact, Ergotron envisions telemedicine carts being equipped with various forms of healthcare technology that enables them to support multiple disciplines at the same time,” Ergotron’s Steve Reinecke offered. “These technologies can span from glucometers that are fully integrated with data that is automatically saved to the patient’s record, to blood pressure monitors that are fully integrated and can be controlled from the clinician station.”
Telemedicine will significantly evolve over the next two years simply because most medical devices will be designed with a computer interface. And along with a more compact design, the addition of USB3.1 and USB Type-3 will enable connectivity, allowing more devices to fit and function on one cart.
“Smaller and smarter devices in the telemedicine environment will create a real-time aspect to care while the patients are in the office,” Reinecke concluded.
The practical capability of telemedicine in the field is advancing rapidly, with many new applications and remote locations. One of the significant enabling technologies for mobility is the ability to deliver high definition video in low-bandwidth environments. One of the companies leading the way in HD teleconferencing is Polycom. iTelemedicine spoke with Ron Emerson, Polycom’s Global Director of Healthcare on this matter.
“Polycom’s strength is in the ability to deliver the highest-level interaction between clinicians and patients at a distance,” Emerson said. “When you move outside the walls of the hospital, you can’t guarantee bandwidth. Polycom can achieve HD video in as little as 512 kilobits per second.”
Another factor impacting carts moving into the field is size. GlobalMed, a leading worldwide supplier of telemedicine solutions offers mobile exam stations with full capabilities.
“Carts are going mobile by getting smaller,” GlobalMed’s Roger Downey explained. “Our Transportable Exam Station can provide the same peripherals, software, connectivity, and videoconferencing abilities as our larger form ClinicalAccess stations.”
Looking ahead to the growth landscape for telemedicine carts, we see many new promising locations and applications. This year has brought significant growth in walk-in mini-clinics in retail environments like Walmart and Rite-Aid, offshore oil and gas exploration, occupational health centers, and schools — to name a few.
“Minute clinics and urgent care centers (especially in rural health areas) are locations where we will see rapid growth given all the new legislation around cross-state consulting,” Ergotron’s Steve Reinecke explained. “In terms of doctors’ offices, we will start to see more immediate connections to specialists instead of booking follow-up appointments elsewhere.”
“Should Congress decide to remove the geographical barriers from Medicare reimbursement, there will be a sharp increase in the use of telemedicine systems of all kinds,” GlobalMed’s Roger Downey added.
Infectious disease environments are another promising growth opportunity. The Ebola outbreak last year highlighted the need for such solutions. Some hospitals are designing and building infectious disease rooms and ER centers where doctors and hospital staff can monitor patients from afar.
Telemedicine carts are becoming smarter, more compact, and more mobile, broadening the scope of applications and locations in which they are used. We can look forward to many significant advances with the addition of new devices and wireless capability, driven by new specialty applications.