ATA 2017 dispatch: The future is about business models and the consumer

Bruce Judson, our guest ATA 2017/Telehealth 2.0 reporter, is a bestselling author of books on business and technology issues in the evolving digital era. This is the first of several articles this week. Mr. Judson writes frequently for The Huffington Post. More on about him may be found in our review of his critique of the RAND telehealth study [25 Mar].

Orlando, April 24. Yesterday, the annual convention of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) moved into full swing. At noon, Jonathan Linkous, ATA’s CEO, took a few minutes to talk with me. During our wide-ranging discussion, three notable themes emerged:

First and perhaps most important, Mr. Linkous believes that the future development of telehealth now stands with establishing viable business models. In his view, the speed of growth of the industry now depends on how the many participants in the healthcare system develop business models that lead to appropriate investments. He noted that this contrasts with the general focus on the evolving technology. Of course, the technology will continue to evolve and major advancements will occur for the foreseeable future. But, Mr. Linkous strongly believes that “the technology is here today.” In short, it’s now about how the technology is used and deployed. New advances will be incorporated into services and infrastructure as they occur. But, the past, telehealth is now moving into mainstream investment discussions. In his view, the leaders of every health organization are now assessing the role telehealth will play in the services they offer, and the investments they need to make now.  Now, it’s about making it work. We are no longer waiting for the technology to be viable.

Second, Mr. Linkous commented on the hype surrounding the industry. He was frank in recognizing that, as with all exciting, transformative industries, the hype cycle is in full swing. One telling comment: “Unlike the past, the industry now has real revenues,” with rapidly growing businesses. In short, we may not be past the hype, but the industry is quickly moving to fulfill realistic expectations.

Finally, Mr. Linkous concluded that the future growth of the telehealth industry would largely depend on the consumer. He cited a variety of factors: the growth of value-based care, the emerging influence of millennials who are comfortable with technology, and the overall consumerization of medicine.

Many industry participants have described themselves to me as B2B businesses. Undoubtedly, they are. It’s hard to refute Linkous’s conclusion: Ultimately, the growth of the industry, like the evolution of healthcare itself, will depend on consumer choices.

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