MedHealthWorld spoke with Randall Porter, Assistant Vice President of AT&T ForHealth at the 2012 HIMSS Conference in Las Vegas. Mr. Porter has been with AT&T for 15 years and is now responsible for AT&T ForHealth. As a long-time AT&T veteran, Porter related how several years ago, AT&T saw that healthcare would become a burgeoning market. At that time they were providing millions of dollars each year in telecommunications infrastructure and services to healthcare organizations. They observed that healthcare had suffered from chronic underinvestment in IT and noted that other similar industries such as banking had reinvented themselves by developing and implementing new, innovative networking and IT solutions. AT&T observed the ramp-up in government investment in healthcare transformation and saw how technology advances were going to make remote patient monitoring a game changer. Seeing this impending “perfect storm” AT&T felt that it was an appropriate time to make a major investment in healthcare.
In November 2010 AT&T ForHealth was established to develop solutions for some of healthcare’s most critical problems. One of the biggest challenges was to mobilize internal AT&T resources, so they decided to appoint an experienced AT&T executive to make it happen. That was how Porter got the job of Assistant Vice President. Porter then hired 60% of his staff from the healthcare industry.
Right after launch, they put in place a plan encompassing AT&T Healthcare Community Online, Cloud-based Solutions, Telehealth and mHealth.
AT&T Healthcare Community Online – Porter explained that this service, powered by Covisint technology, supports collaborative care and health information exchange (HIE) providing secure messaging, access to multiple applications through one portal. It also supports additional elements of HIE functionality including patient identification (MPI) and record location (RLS). Porter discussed the strategic alliance announced at HIMSS12 and reported in MedHealthWorld that will integrate AMA’s AMAGINE™ portal with AT&T’s current offering. This alliance will allow AMA’s physicians, including physician organizations and medical societies nationwide, to connect and collaborate with hospitals, payers and patients. Porter explained that the AMA’s installed base has many smaller physician practices where AT&T’s installed base includes many larger hospitals and practices. This alliance will help broaden the offering. Porter also mentioned AT&T’s “win” of the Indiana Health Exchange which has 100 hospitals and 19,000 physicians. He noted that AT&T also supports Baylor’s 200 facilities and 4,000 physicians. By providing solutions to this diverse customer base AT&T has demonstrated that it can support both smaller and larger physician practices and healthcare organizations.
Cloud-Based Solutions – The second broad area of AT&T’s involvement in healthcare solutions is medical imaging and information management. AT&T now offers a vendor- neutral archive for images providing an outsourced pay-as-you-go option for hospitals and other healthcare organizations. Many times as a result of historical purchasing practices, or the combination of several organizations, healthcare organizations find themselves with several different picture archiving and communication systems (PACS). These different systems create significant barriers to sharing of medical images across departments and organizations, limiting providers’ access. AT&T’s solution in this area provides a secure, vendor-neutral, cloud-based solution supporting remote access and providing virtually unlimited capacity without requiring additional capital investment.
AT&T also offers highly-secure server options where data are encrypted down to the client level allowing exchange of PHI. Using AT&T’s tools, enterprises can build their own applications and implement solutions including managed tablets and other devices.
Telehealth –There is also a huge opportunity for AT&T in the area of Telehealth. Telehealth includes advanced audio and video conferencing including telepresence based on cisco’s platform. Specialized peripherals allow specialists to conduct a diagnostic assessment of remote patients in rural areas. As might be expected, leading adopters of this technology to date are the VA and DOD. But this last year new federal funding was made available and is being used by, among others, the California Telehealth Network.
AT&T’s Healthcare Vision
Porter explained that AT&T’s longer term vision and strategy is to use all of its assets to develop its healthcare vertical, including that fact that it is a major self-insured employer covering 1.2 million employee, retirees and dependent lives. AT&T itself spends $5.5B on healthcare benefits each year. According to Porter, that means AT&T is motivated not only by profit potential, but also by the potential to use its own technology to provide improved healthcare at lower cost. AT&T is working to mobilize the entire healthcare ecosystem by promoting more collaborative care in the market and utilizing more remote patient monitoring solutions. They strongly believe in a future where homes have connected sensors that provide health monitoring making data available to authorized providers. In April of 2011, AT&T and Intuitive Health initiated a home based remote patient monitoring solution pilot to reduce hospital admissions for congestive heart failure patients using an Android tablet as the hub and connecting a clinical feed directly to an EHR. Texas Health Resources’ research arm will be evaluating the results.
Porter sees AT&T as a “master of scaling-up.” All of their solutions are designed with scaling up in mind. He cited as an example that AT&T is encouraged by AT&T’s own use of DiabetesManager for their employees. AT&T will soon share its best practices regarding how to recruit patients, and how to get patients to use the solution.
Porter observed that at HIMSS 2011 the market was skeptical because AT&T was talking about futures. At HIMSS12 AT&T focused on what they have accomplished including the AMA partnership, the Baylor contract, the Indiana HIE contract and the congestive heart failure pilot. Also, AT&T was winner of the 2011 Frost & Sullivan Competitive Strategy Leadership Award for their work with mobile communication devices in the remote healthcare environment.
Porter was enthusiastic about the recently announced AT&T Development Center ForHealth providing a marketplace for application developers where they could, for example, take data from an EHR and match it with health data from a mobile device. This coming year, AT&T plans to continue its investment in healthcare including promoting their secure text messaging service and promoting the Health 2.0 spring fling developer challenge.
AT&T’s dramatic expansion in the healthcare arena from pure infrastructure into the solutions sandbox illustrates a trend we are observing of big players acquiring smaller companies and technologies, adding professional industry-specific talent and pursuing contracts for HIE and other services which allow them to leverage their infrastructure and capital. This is an interesting strategy from both the solution provider and the client perspective. It will be interesting to see how AT&T and these other multibillion dollar corporations fare against their smaller competitors. We predict bigger contract announcements, and more acquisitions and consolidation before this wave is complete.
Ed Daniels is a consultant, author and entrepreneur. Daniels is affiliated with Point-of-Care Partners, where he consults with healthcare providers, new business ventures, pharmaceutical manufacturers, health plans and nonprofit organizations.