AT&T: Healthcare Embracing Telepresence

The U.S. healthcare industry, under pressure to get a handle on costs, is embracing telepresence as one means of reducing expenditure, according to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).

The resulting cuts in travel costs, and more productive collaboration among medical professionals, are just two of the factors driving increasing demand for telepresence in the health sector, making it more popular than most remote diagnostic applications, according to Alan Benway, AT&T's executive director of product marketing management for telepresence. (See AT&T Helps Cerner.)

"We are definitely seeing a good bit of interest in the healthcare space -- we're really just scratching the surface so far," says Benway. [Ed note: Won't that leave a nasty scab?] "Healthcare companies seem to be a little more active than some others in this space."

Like other telepresence adopters, healthcare operations are interested in telepresence for its ability to save money and see a fast return on investment, Benway says.

"If you look at the pharmaceuticals part of healthcare, these companies spend huge amounts of money to develop new products and bring them to market," he said. "If you could get greater collaboration amongst knowledge workers and scientists, and be able to get a new drug to market a month early or six months early, what is that worth to them? The numbers get very big very quickly."

To date, telepresence has been used to share the expertise of specialists and eliminate travel, while remote diagnostics (via telepresence) to improve treatment in rural areas, and enable specialists to treat a wider number of patients, is just now beginning, says the AT&T man.

The carrier is encouraging its customers to persuade their partners, including suppliers and fellow practitioners, to adopt telepresence and join the AT&T Business Exchange for multipoint conferencing. (See AT&T Goes Multipoint.)

"We're trying to push the whole business-to-business angle that's starting to grow and catch on," Benway says. "One of the challenges is for these folks to get more of their ecosystem partners onto the service, but that takes time. The value of the services goes up as more partners in a given ecosystem are attached to the exchange," he claims.

AT&T's approach to the healthcare market involves special training for its sales people who address that industry, and for the specialists who sell telepresence services too, says Benway. Members of the two special sales groups work together to sell telepresence applications to the health care industry, he notes.

Verizon Enterprise Solutions has adopted a different strategy, creating a special unit that addresses healthcare with a combination of professional services, sales and applications specialists. (See Verizon Pushes Deeper Into Tele-Medicine.)

Telepresence usage has continued to grow, outperforming other services during the economic downturn, though the growth hasn't been as strong as in the early months of 2008, before the global recession hit. Benway notes that it's impossible to know how the telepresence services market might have developed without the recession, as the pressure to cut costs during the downturn has been one of the drivers of demand.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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