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Telehealth sector growing quickly Hackensack-based Vidyo seeing a boom in business

The use of telemedicine is becoming more frequent in New Jersey hospitals.-(COURTESY PHOTO)

Hackensack-based Vidyo has been providing video communication services for the health care, the federal government and financial sectors for more than a decade.

But if you’re not familiar with the company, don’t be embarrassed. Even its top executives say one of the main sectors it serves, telemedicine, is only now coming into focus.

“It took a long time for the telehealth hockey stick curve to start taking off; it’s only really in the last 18-24 months that we have seen that start happening,” Mark Noble, vice president of telehealth business development at Vidyo, said.

Telemedicine is on the rise around the country, including in New Jersey, where state legislators spent last year advancing a telemedicine bill.

Noble said Vidyo, which has raised approximately $140 million in capital since it was founded in 2005, expects 2017 to be the tipping point into a boom of telehealth activity.

The company, which employs about 300 people, is watching the health tech landscape change quickly.

Take, for instance, one of its telehealth products.

Vidyo powers the eICU service provided by Phillips to hospitals. The service, according a recent company report based on its use at UMass Memorial Medical Center, allowed the hospital to increase the number of cases it could handle by 44 percent, and improved contribution margins by up to 376 percent — or $37.7 million. In addition, the cost of investing in the eICU technology can be recovered in roughly three months.

But those numbers do not tell the full story.

Doctors in New Jersey are faced with an important disadvantage: They are still not being reimbursed for time spent on telehealth calls, if they do participate.

Al Campanella, executive vice president of strategic business growth and analytics at Virtua Health, said, for example, while lawyers bill per minute of conversation, doctors have usually done phone consults for free.

But legislation in Trenton aims to help resolve that issue and make insurers pay equally for in-person and tele-visits.

The common misperception is that telehealth lowers the cost of health care, but Campanella said that isn’t necessarily true.

“It’s cheaper in the health care ecosystem standpoint, but it’s incurring more costs to do (a telemedicine) visit,” he said.

With all the technology added, hardware and software, plus the setup of the computer system in the office, there is an overhead cost added on.

“So, on a delivery basis, telemedicine costs the same, if not more, than a face-to-face visit,” Campanella said. “But it saves money because it helps avoid a costlier (health issue) downstream because you can intervene more quickly.”

In addition to utilizing telehealth as a way to check on patients in the ICU or follow up after an acute care visit, the technology is being looked at in the growing sector of telepsychiatry, according to Vidyo.

The technology was first seen as a solution to the problem of lack of access to health care in rural and remote areas, but is quickly becoming more widely used.

“Behavioral health is easily delivered via real-time video communication,” Noble said. “It’s one of the specialties that don’t have a unique or specific workflow requirement and the bulk of the interaction is the interaction itself.”

Another growing area of use, which Virtua is currently experimenting with, is what Campanella called peripherals. Just like it sounds, the peripherals are basic doctors tools attached to a tele-monitoring device.

These can be used by a parent of a child or someone who can receive training to use the various tools to check on basic vitals and symptoms. For example, holding a stethoscope up to the child’s heart, which will read the heartbeat and send the data back to the doctor on the other end of the video conference.

Something like that could cost around $1,000, but vendors seeking federal approval could watch the price drop to $250.

“Every mom and dad can buy one,” Campanella said.

And while eyes are on Trenton to make a move in regards to the telemedicine regulation, Noble believes 2017 is the year where the decade-old technology will get new life. Especially as more focus grows on senior care.

“For the last year or so, providers have been trying to figure out a strategy for moving into the home,” he said. “We believe 2017 is going to be a tipping point especially for at-home remote patient monitoring.”

E-mail to: anjaleek@njbiz.com

Anjalee Khemlani

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