When most people think of telemedicine, they tend to think of it as a modern “buzzword,” an emerging technology that hasn’t quite taken root yet. One thing that is quite interesting is the history of telemedicine. It’s actually over 140 years old!
In 1879 there was an issue of The Lancet that described telephones being used to help reduce the number of doctor’s visits. Fast forward to 1963, Cecil Wittson created a closed-loop television system that connected the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and the Norfolk State Mental Hospital in Norfolk, Nebraska. These were 120 miles apart. This system was used for psychiatric evaluations.
Galen Data is based in Houston and in our own backyard, we have the NASA Johnson Space Center. They have been pioneering telemedicine since the Mercury missions, out of necessity given the distance from their astronauts.
Today, a lot of companies have invested in and deal heavily with telemedicine. The promise of telemedicine has been to take the quality of care available in big cities and make it accessible to those in rural areas as well. This was how it had been “boxed” or viewed by the public, but that view may now be changing.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine takes on a new level of importance. Shelter in place and social distancing requirements make it far more difficult for patients to go in and see a doctor, especially for non-emergent consultation or treatment. At the same time, many hospital systems have been overwhelmed, which makes it more difficult for patients to seek non-COVID help.
Telemedicine and COVID-19
Telemedicine is seeing a deserved new interest. It has transcended that “traditional” rural use case and is being actively looked at far more deeply in urban settings.
One of the technologies at telemedicine’s core is devices that can collect and process data remotely. Here at Galen Data, we’ve always seen ourselves as a great enabler of that connectivity, centralization and post-processing.
We work with a lot of large and early-stage companies that use connected devices. Many middle-stage companies are transitioning to their first connected device. They’re often using something right now within a hospital environment and are looking at how they can facilitate use outside of the hospital, too. We are watching very closely to see which technologies might make the jump.
Funding for telemedicine
With the event of COVID-19, we’ve seen a lot of government pressure to reduce any “red tape” associated with approvals for connected devices that might facilitate telemedicine. It seems that the government is more on board with creating a smoother process, especially with the CARES Act. One of the things key to our discussion here is a $200 million allotment, called the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.
The $200 million is geared at providers, with up to $1 million per request. It is targeted at providing much-needed connectivity infrastructure, IT services and physical devices to help better their practices. This could be anything from apps for working in clinical settings, to devices that reside inside the home. All of these things can be applied for under the new Act.
Applying for funding
According to the FCC’s public notice on the funding for telemedicine, there will be several steps required, but there are three steps providers can take immediately in the process of applying for funding:
- Obtain an eligibility determination from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC);
- Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN); and
- Register with System for Award Management.
One of the positive things brought about by the Telehealth Program is that it will fully-fund the telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services for healthcare providers. This is to continue until the funds of the program have been used up or until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Funding will generally be limited to no more than $1 million per applicant.
If you have already purchased services or infrastructure to support telemedicine on or after March 13, 2020, you can also apply to receive funding support for the services you purchased. This also includes anything that incurs monthly, recurring costs, such as broadband connections or software subscriptions.
Funding can be used for:
- Telecommunications Services and Broadband Connectivity Services
Voice services, and Internet connectivity services for health care providers or their patients.
- Information Services
Remote patient monitoring platforms and services; patient-reported outcome platforms; store and forward services, such as asynchronous transfer of patient images and data for interpretation by a physician; platforms and services to provide synchronous video consultation.
- Internet Connected Devices/Equipment
Tablets, smartphones, or connected devices to receive connected care services at home (e.g., broadband-enabled blood pressure monitors; pulse-ox) for patient or health care provider use; telemedicine kiosks/carts for health care provider site.
The future of telemedicine
We think that this situation with COVID-19 and the enablement of telemedicine may be a catalyst to take it further in the future. It was always envisaged that more could be done with it than just serving rural areas, but of course, the pandemic situation has resulted in a lot of pressure in a short period of time. Scalability may be an issue, but with the funding now made available, we may see some strong infrastructure in the coming months, along with a public focus on how telemedicine can help.
Fortunately, we have a very innovative community in the health technology space and we see them coming together to make a difference in telemedicine. Hopefully, we see great results that continue for a long time to come.