AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has been playing in the health-care market for decades, but has now dramatically overhauled its approach with the creation of what it called a new practice area in November. AT&T said it intends to develop health-care-specific services and solutions, whether they are wireless, broadband or cloud-based. This was the first public acknowledgment of the extent to which AT&T was already heavily involved in solving health-care problems with technology.
AT&T's public embrace of the health-care vertical comes as the federal government is funding more efforts to modernize the health-care system and as competitors are piping up about their efforts in this field. Hospitals, doctors' offices, medical facilities and insurance companies are under pressure to reduce costs and improve care, spurred in part by new federal rules and incentives governing health-care IT. Verizon has been vocal about its own approach to health-care IT and now that AT&T has a company-wide strategy, it has become more talkative as well.
To the cloud!
Among the major initiatives of AT&T ForHealth will be the AT&T Healthcare Community Online, a health information exchange (HIE), which is a cloud-based service intended to enable easy but secure exchange of health information. HIEs are core products for the medical industry and a key part of the federal mandate to update health-care IT. In fact, some $540 million was granted just last year to aid them in making HIEs of various types interoperable to improve communication within and across state lines.
Cloudy HIEs also represent a quantifiable way of reducing health-care cost: By making patient treatment and testing data securely but easily accessible, HIEs can eliminate the costly duplication of tests and improve clinical workflow.
AT&T is rolling out its HIE after having first implemented the program with West Tennessee Healthcare, a public, not-for-profit health-care system covering 17 counties in Tennessee, according to AT&T's assistant VP of health care Brenda Crawford.
This is not to say AT&T just began pursuing the health-care vertical in a major way in November. In recent months the carrier has:
- Worked with the state of Tennessee on the first statewide electronic health information system in the United States
- Started working with the University of California to link 800 sites in a telehealth network, the largest to date, by the end of this year
- Worked with doctors in Texas on using wireless technology to predict and prevent serious falls by elderly patients
- Helped the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) develop standardized health measurement devices and Zigbee wireless technology for remote health monitoring.