Coordinated Care Management

February 13, 2012

Cable TV Companies See Healthcare Services as Next Growth Market

Healthcare technology is accomplishing a lot of things these days: monitoring the elderly and others with chronic disease so they can remain at home safely; letting not just top athletes check how far they’re run and how fast, but the average person, too; and even helping traumatized children heal.

But now a technology is being used that allows specialists to examine patients via videoconference over a cable TV company’s network, even those having a stroke or heart attack, and recommend what to do in the “golden hour” when time is of the essence, according to a story by Alex Sherman.

The technology is becoming more mainstream and, believe it or not, it is being provided by cable TV companies like Cox Communications Inc. and others. According to the Business Week story, these companies “are ramping up sales staffs to sell broadband access and related services to regional hospitals and doctors’ offices, trying to squeeze more money out of a network they used to use mainly for carrying TV signals.”

Other cable TV companies are also getting into the business to help patients find information to make better health care decisions.

Sherman reports that, while cable companies still get most of their revenue from residential services, what’s now looking hot to these companies is where the growth is – “connecting regional businesses with broadband and other services, particularly hospitals and schools.”

Hospitals, of course, are prime candidates to approach about upgrading their Internet networks, Phil Meeks, Cox’s senior vice president of business services, told Sherman. With the movement to electronic health records (EHRs) as mandated by the new health reform law, hospitals can no longer rely on slow connections. Broadband connections are much faster and can carry more data.

Currently, healthcare accounts for only about 10 percent of Cox’s overall business services revenue, or about $100 million, Sherman reports. But it’s “20 percent higher than a year ago, and annual growth will probably accelerate as Cox boosts its sales efforts and improves its so-called telemedicine services,” Meeks told Sherman.

Cox is not alone in seeing the opportunities in healthcare. Satya Parimi, Time Warner Cable’s senior director of healthcare solutions, told Sherman that “his division is one of the company’s fastest-growing sales channels.” Once hopsitals are connected with broadband, “they can link to satellite clinics and doctors’ offices,” with data security and integrity.

Time Warner Cable also now offers a service that allows an individual’s vital statistics to be entered daily into an application that’s viewed by a physician, according to Sherman.

“The bundling of services allows cable to offer lower pricing to get into the market,” David Joyce, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York, told Sherman. “Now that cable companies have been focusing on the commercial market, they should be expected to take more shares.”

Having years of data on blood pressure, weight, insulin levels and other statistics allows doctors to make more accurate diagnoses, said Scott Patch, a family physician in Portland, Maine, who uses Time Warner Cable’s infrastructure.

Scott Patch, a family physician in Portland, Maine, who uses Time Warner Cable’s infrastructure, was interviewed by Sherman for the article. He told the writer that he’s using an application “that allows him to videoconference with patients who also have Time Warner Cable’s broadband service at their home. The product is particularly useful for elderly patients who have trouble getting to the doctor’s office routinely,” Sherman writes.

“I have one patient, a diabetic, and I was talking to his wife on videoconference, and I see him eating a bag of chips in the background,” Patch told Sherman in their interview. “I’m like, ‘Hey you, don’t eat that whole bag of chips!’ The televisits allow doctors to see how patients are doing away from the very sterile doctor’s office environment.”

Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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