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Q&A: Yorktel’s Jim Custer Talks Telehealth

If you want to get down to the nitty-gritty on the techie side of telemedicine, Jim Custer, the director of product development in the health care division of Yorktel, is your man.

For more than 30 years, Yorktel has been the video managed services partner around the world for some of the largest business and government agencies. Yorkel has more than 10,000 video systems under management worldwide.

Custer counts himself lucky to be at the head of a staff of more than 20 developers and dreamers in a division of his company dedicated totally to health care. MeriTalk recently spoke with him about his take on telemedicine today.

MeriTalk: Where does Yorktel see telehealth going into the future?

Custer: Yorktel sees telehealth going into the cloud environment. In the past, it has been a little more difficult for hospital systems to identify using the cloud for telehealth, but because it requires a lot less capital than other approaches, it seems to be more and more appealing as time goes on.

jim-custer-head-shot 1

Jim Custer sees cloud
as the future of telehealth.

MeriTalk: What’s the most futuristic telehealth plan/project Yorktel has on its plate?

Custer: Yorktel is currently building out its video collaboration platform, Univago, into a full interoperability cloud platform that will help with telehealth. At this point there isn’t anything like this out there. We want this to be a very specific cloud offering. It will offer far-end camera control that will allow clinicians to control the camera themselves. Right now in a cloud offering, some companies can offer this with the use of a specific camera. Yorktel will offer this capability with any kind of camera, any kind of equipment, and plans to launch it by Oct. 1.

MeriTalk: What are some of the things that could expand the use of telehealth over the next few years?

Custer: If regulators could loosen up some of the reimbursement requirements, that would go a long way toward the expansion of telehealth over the next few years. Right now, a lot of accountable care organizations (ACOs) are just sitting on telehealth capabilities, because they can’t get reimbursed.

MeriTalk: What are some of the obstacles blocking the adoption of telehealth?

Custer: One thing we found in the last few years is that internal training in the use of telehealth technology has not been a priority. Organizations spend money on telehealth equipment but don’t factor in the need to do some centralized or decentralized training because they don’t quite understand the technology. Yorktel has seen a huge surge in success and adoption rates for telehealth when training is added as part of implementation.

MeriTalk: What more could the government do to promote the use of telehealth?

Custer: The government could ensure that there is the same actual legislation in each state for telehealth billing. The government also needs to identify some additional telehealth HL7 coding that goes into “telehealthology,” (the various “ologies”) that are covered under telehealth reimbursement. There really needs to be a group within the government that addresses this.

MeriTalk: How does Yorktel see itself in the health care vertical?

Custer:  Yorktel was recently recognized as one of the top 10 AV companies with a presence in the health care space. The one thing that we have that others don’t is we have a very specific health care vertical that does nothing but health care. We have a team of well over 20 people that do nothing but work on health care.

MeriTalk: What is Yorktel doing in the Federal space?

Custer: We are at our 31st year at Yorktel. We started in the Federal space with a program with AT&T that offered the very first video conferencing to the government. Yorktel is still behind the scenes in high-end videoconferencing for Federal agencies.

MeriTalk: Is Yorktel involved with any services supplied to the VHA?

Custer: Yes. Yorkel is partnered with Phillips in its eICU program to remotely monitor and manage ICU Veterans. A recent large study of patients across multiple health systems showed that hospitals using the Philips eICU program reduced mortality by 26 percent and length of stay by 20 percent.

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