Last September, the second annual conference of the Association of Telemedicine Service Providers (ATSP) was held in Portland, Oregon. The ATSP members were not just invited to come and listen to presentations on unresolved issues, but to actively join a working meeting, where they could see their colleagues, exchange ideas, and witness "shoot-out" equipment demonstrations. The attendees received a nice opportunity to learn and concentrate on the problems of individual telemedicine businesses and the industry as a whole. Of special interest was a dedicated conference track on regional planning and telemedicine services.
The Association of Telemedicine Service Providers was founded to meet the information, management, and policy needs of the broad range of health care institutions which offer telemedicine services. Service Provider Organizations (SPO) form the core of the Association's membership. During the ATSP meeting, Senator Ron Wyden presented in a keynote teleconference the results which already have been achieved through telemedicine. The senator used the striking example of St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, to highlight the different services that have optimized the general access to health care for the rural population in Oregon.
The work of the ATSP goes well beyond the pure mechanics of telemedicine. Working alongside health care providers, the organization has opened new markets and simplified the business of delivering telemedicine services. The companies which provide vital equipment and services to the telemedicine industry are rapidly expanding. In addition, the ATSP helps patients by improving their range and quality of health care options while also trying to assist the people who plan and pay for the provision of health care services, to reduce the cost, morbidity, and mortality which usually is associated with the geographic mismatch of health care needs and resources.
At the conference, this kind of geographic mismatch has been identified for the state of Oregon, by means of data gathered by the ATSP to describe the types of disparities which exist. Telemedicine seems to be outgrowing the phase of experiments and pilot programmes in order to move towards real implementation. The ATSP members are focusing on unexpected niches and innovations to build a genuine, independent telemedicine industry without losing sight of the major challenges vendors are dealing with to find creative solutions for the future.
Two of the hottest issues, giving cause to some frustration among the ATSP conference attendees, constituted the Medicare reimbursement policies and the allocation of funds legislated by the USA Telecommunications Act of 1996. Only an ever increasing public awareness of telemedicine is able to encourage members of the American Congress to support this alternative and promising form of health care delivery. The ATSP event was covered by Feedback Research Services which has provided VMW with the highlights for this article. For more details about the impact and evolution of telemedicine in the United States, we refer to the Web site of the Association of Telemedicine Service Providers .