Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Tapan Mehta, Cisco

Tapan Mehta
Tapan Mehta

Tapan Mehta, global healthcare lead, Cisco, brings more than 15 years of healthcare information technology, marketing and business development leadership as Cisco’s global healthcare lead. Mehta is responsible for managing the development and marketing efforts for healthcare solutions including clinical workflow improvement, telemedicine, patient safety, regulatory requirements and EHR integration.

Here he discusses the demand for telehealth, the changing role of hospital health IT, wearable technology and patient monitoring and what Cisco is doing to serve its healthcare clients.

Tell me about Cisco and how it serves healthcare.

At Cisco, we see the healthcare industry as ripe for technology disruption. After doing things the same way for years, we think technology can be the catalyst that brings positive changes to how care is delivered. Drawing from our experience as the worldwide networking leader, Cisco is well positioned to help improve the future of healthcare through networked technologies that transform how people connect, access and share information, and collaborate. New healthcare technologies, like those offered by Cisco, benefit everyone – from patients to providers, payers to life sciences organizations.

What is your role, specifically, and what is the most challenging aspect of it?

I have a global marketing role where my team is tasked to develop healthcare specific solutions, go-to-market strategy and field enablement, as well as serve as the “voice of the customer” by bringing the outside-in view to Cisco and its various business groups.  Healthcare is at a very critical inflection point in the industry whereby there are several key underlying currents in areas such as mHealth, telehealth, data analytics, wearables, etc.  While there are several interesting opportunities to pursue, what makes it difficult is to prioritize them as each segment has substantial market opportunity and growth prospects.

What inspires you and does this translate to your leadership style?

Healthcare is very personal. It touches everyone in the society in some shape or form.  I have been in the healthcare space for the past 15 years and I am extremely fortunate that I am in an industry that is going to go through a transformational change over the next decade. Historically, healthcare has fundamentally lagged behind most industries when it comes to technology adoption, but I perceive that changing over the next several years. Healthcare “consumerism,” combined with government mandates around the globe, is going to force the industry to adopt technology if it truly wants to improve quality of patient care and workflows throughout the continuum of care. I am really excited to be part of this healthcare eco-system, whereby I can make a difference in how our customers do their business and more importantly how quality of patient care can be vastly improved.

The journey that awaits us has had a direct impact on my leadership style. I have kept an open-mind and constantly look to learn more about our customer pain points. With this knowledge, we look to find ways to develop solutions that truly address the issues being experiences by our customers. I truly believe that no task is impossible if one harnesses the collective knowledge of the team of people around them, working in a collaborative manner and driving for customer excellence.

From a global perspective, where do you see the greatest demand for telehealth technology?

Telehealth and other care-at-a-distance solutions have many use cases and will be incredibly important in advancing the way healthcare is administered. With the projected worldwide physician shortage, care-at-a-distance solutions will have an impact on every geography.

With that being said, rural areas that lack local specialist knowledge will see the greatest impact. In a perfect world, those with advanced healthcare knowledge would be spread evenly among the population. However, we know this is not the case. Care-at-a-distance solutions even the playing field by making this knowledge accessible no matter the location. Another key factor will be acceptance of the technology. Areas with a higher propensity to embrace technology as a transformational tool, such as parts of Asia and Europe, will also be strong markets for telehealth. These are also the markets expected to embrace Smart City technology, which will assist in bringing telehealth technology into the home.

Are hospital IT infrastructures currently prepared for the next wave of mHealth technologies? If not, what do hospitals need to do to prepare?

Hospitals have come a long way in the past decade to bring technology to the forefront of medical care delivery. However, healthcare is seen as – and perhaps rightly so – a traditional industry that holds on to the old way of doing things. We are just starting to see the industry turn the corner on widespread adoption of mHealth technologies, and still have work to do.

To help in this transition, vendors like Cisco are tasked with creating solutions that seamlessly integrate with what caregivers are already doing. It is our responsibility to create offerings that don’t disrupt, but rather enhance what a doctor is currently doing.

When discussing the adoption of new technologies, we also need to mention the need for a robust infrastructure to collect, manage and analyze all of the data being collected. As the healthcare industry updates to new technology, it must also update its network.

How do you see the role of hospital IT departments changing in the next few years? Do you expect healthcare IT budgets to shrink/stay the same?

IT departments at hospitals and clinics are currently struggling. They are expected to do a lot with a little: keep an infrastructure up and running, troubleshoot issues and find ways to innovate, all with little manpower. Currently, hospital IT managers are looking for systems that require little maintenance or oversight (i.e. automated processes) and are easy to install and deploy, as well as be versatile and easily scalable.

It is very hard to know if IT budgets are going to shrink or stay the same, but what is clear is that they will be impacted for better or worse. Technology is clearly changing the HIT landscape especially as the industry tries to catch up with other industries in terms of technology adoption. With the ACO model in US, we see a lot of consolidation taking place, but in other Asian countries IT budget is still growing quite rapidly as those countries continue to bolster their IT environment.

Will wearable technology (Fitbit, etc.) have a major impact on healthcare? How do you see this trend evolving?

Wearable technology is giving the healthcare industry a new way of collecting health data. And because it’s collected, there’s an opportunity now to identify trends in the data through predictive analytics. When we identify patterns and trends in our health, we can take a more proactive approach to getting care and necessary treatment if need be.

For example, let’s say a wearable device tracks blood sugar levels – a technology that could benefit diabetics. The device may be equipped with sensors to alert when the user’s blood sugar dips below what may be considered healthy levels.

If that data is captured at an early stage, and users and physicians are alerted via sensor-based technology, the user wearing the device may avoid more fatal results in the long term such as heart disease or stroke.

From a consumer perspective, there’s an array of startups that have begun to innovate in this space. As these startups incubate and grow, they will continue to have a larger impact on the industry overall.

How do you see remote patient monitoring changing the way healthcare is delivered? What do you see as the “first phase” for hospitals turning to this type of care?

Perhaps one of the first steps hospitals should take when turning to this type of care is acceptance. Healthcare providers are entering an interesting time now that technology can allow for patient recovery outside a medical facility.

By allowing patients to stay in their own home versus staying in a hospital, that gives patients a sense of control in their recovery process, not to mention a possible level of increased comfort.

For hospitals, this will reduce the number of bodies in beds; hence reduce medical staff time for in-person care. Not only does this free up staff time, hospitals may begin to see reduced costs involved with having patients physically stay in their facilities. The technology that assists with remote patient monitoring may improve the patient recovery process, but it can also help with the bottom line.

What are the biggest issues Cisco is trying to solve for hospitals, and how does this vary from country to country?

One of the biggest issues right now in many hospitals is the lack of an end-to-end solution for telehealth technology – a solution that Cisco offers in the healthcare space.

But not all hospitals, both inside and outside the U.S., have a robust network infrastructure to support the technologies needed for adopting telehealth solutions. As these hospitals develop that network infrastructure, they can tackle some of these greater technology adoption challenges. Cisco, as a technology provider in the healthcare space, wants to encourage hospitals and medical facilities to embrace and adopt the solutions that will improve quality of care.

What are the biggest industry roadblocks to complete EHR adoption? Do you believe these roadblocks will still be in place two years from now; 10 years from now?

Healthcare providers are trying to find resources in a timely manner for the successful implementation of EHR system deployment. This is proving one of the biggest challenges in EHR adoption, as hospitals must find funds and place a greater emphasis on technology upgrades.

Affordable Care Act guidelines require EHR deployment by 2015 or else facilities will face penalties. Even with a deadline in place, it will take time for medical facilities to do a full-scale adoption of EHR. We expect this particular roadblock – hospitals finding funds for technology advancements – to continue being an issue for hospitals in the coming years.

What role does technology play in improving continuity of care? Will technology solely improve CoC, or do hospitals need to look at policy and process changes as well?

Unfortunately, technology may never be the end-all solution to healthcare’s greatest challenges. As hospitals continue to integrate technology best practices into their operations to improve continuity of care, they must also factor in policies, both already set in place and policies not yet created. Policies like HIPAA compliance and others pertaining to security and privacy will continue to help guide the way technology is incorporated into hospital operations.

But the concept of technology and innovation developed within the framework of policy will lead to improved healthcare and a higher level of security for patient data all while aiming to maintain HIPAA compliance. Putting proper governance in place can also help with staying within that framework.

Technology doesn’t just play a role in improving care, but it can also be used to improve medical education. What role do you see technology playing in training future physicians?

Technology is just as critical for improving healthcare as it is for teaching future physicians. With technology like Cisco TelePresence, medical students can connect virtually to hospitals across the country and around the world for continuing their education.

If medical students become accustomed to this technology early on in their medical schooling, they will have the skills and the confidence to use it once they become licensed physicians.

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