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Telecom giants focus on health care business opportunity


30/08/2009

(Third in a series)
Recognizing that the health care industry is a major opportunity for new service revenue, telecom service providers are tailoring their sales approach and, in many cases, creating new sales and customer service organizations designed specifically to create solutions for health care operations.

For example, Verizon Business (NYSE:VZ)created Verizon Connected Health Care Solutions to focus its attention on how existing and new network functions can better serve the health care industry.

“I say focusing its attention because it’s not just trying to build new stuff but also saying how can we better position and utilize our existing portfolio of services to serve the health care industry,” said Barry Zipp, director of Verizon Connected Health Care Solutions. “We have such a tremendous business portfolio that can be brought to bear on healthcare, but it hasn’t been positioned as effectively as it could have. And that’s part of my job.”
Cox Communications is also looking to exploit its existing network deployments to target the health care industry, especially in efforts to connect to patients in their homes.

“It’s part of our total value proposition – why cable, why now,” said Mike Braham, regional vice president for Cox in the southeast. “Cable uniquely has the high-bandwidth capabilities into the home providing the voice and data and video solutions today that we can fully maximize the broadband infrastructure to be able to deliver commercial applications over residential broadband. We have this embedded infrastructure into so many homes that is strong, robust and HIPPA-compliant, so we can help the health care industry both find ways they can be economically efficient and reach more patients in their homes.”

Qwest Communications (NYSE:Q) has spent the last 18 months or so refining its approach to serving health care, said Barry Witonsky, group manager-solutions marketing. “We have realized that health care is something to focus on,” Witonsky said. Some ideas have come from the sales people, who directly interface with health care customers and others from vendors, such as Cisco, which is working on health care record solutions, Witonsky said.
Qwest already partners with Microsoft’s HealthVault to offer personal healthcare records but is also working with other organizations to enable doctors and clinics to have better access to – and understanding of – IT.

“Health care has a big need there,” Witonsky said. “It’s not like manufacturing or other large enterprises where you put in an ERP or CRM application and dictate that employees use it. Doctors don’t always work for the hospital, but the hospital IT guy has to get doctors to participate. We are working with them to show how Qwest can help these IT guys show the business value, to tell that story to clinicians to get their buy-in. That’s a project management organization that we have that is a differentiator versus a Verizon or an AT&T.”

To some extent, all of these companies are playing catch-up to AT&T (NYSE:T), which has had health care as a focal point of wireless and other research at AT&T Labs and was the first telecom service provider to join the Continua Health Alliance, a consortium of healthcare and IT companies that builds on industry standards with solutions specific to the health industry. In addition, AT&T announced a nationwide health information exchange with Microsoft and Covisint more than a year ago. The AT&T Healthcare Community Online uses two AT&T patents to enable existing systems of health care providers and physicians to share medical records. It is enabled by Covisint’s On-Demand Healthcare Platform and uses AT&T’s MPLS network to share information electronically among patients and health care providers as well as Microsoft’s HealthVault, health-information exchanges and insurers.

“What is neat around that solution is that the AT&T solution does not require a hospital group to rework its entire medical database, which would be pretty dangerous,” said Robert Miller, executive director of technology research at AT&T Labs. “Rather, in the sense of an operating system that has drivers to individual devices like printers or disk drives, AT&T designed its system so when we work with an individual health care provider, there is, in effect, a driver created that allows the particular medical database format of that customer to be translated into what the database that AT&T hosts and displays on its dashboard to operate with. Basically, it allows the hospital or whoever the customer is to export its data without rewriting everything. You can think of it as an API to each independent hospital’s solution.”

Verizon Business is focusing on three key initiatives within health care: the need for higher quality care, the need for universal care and the need for greater efficiency, Zipp said. “We map those health care needs to three primary solution areas – one is mobility, one is health care information management, and the third is telemedicine. Those are three major categories where Verizon as a health care practices is focusing its attention,” he said.

As part of that focus, Verizon Business is talking with purchase influencers who are also medical practitioners – the doctors, nurses and executives themselves, and not just the CIO or CTO, Zipp said.

“The tenor of discussion changes dramatically when you sit down with a cardiologist and see how they are using clinical technology and how our services can help them,” Zipp said. “A prime example is helping doctors conduct remote patient monitoring. Whether patients are home-bound or you are remotely monitoring ICU patients, there are a lot of communications and IT services that can be brought to bear for something like that. It is really matching the technology to the business needs. And there is no lack of business needs out there.”

Cox’s strategy has capitalized on its regional structure, which tends to match well with health care facilities also serving by regions, and on partnerships, Braham said. “We are teaming with different health care organizations to determine how to best support their needs to meeting growing health care concerns,” he said. “We meet with government organizations to see where we can fully leverage our network for them. In the state of Virginia, for example, we are working with the current administration to better understand their needs.”

Cox is teaming with Sentara Health Care in Hampton Roads, Va., to set up a regional network linking doctors and hospitals in sharing patient records and medical images, and also teamed up with Integris Health in Oklahoma to improve care in rural areas there. The hospitals are typically served by Cox fiberoptics, while provider offices have either fiber or hybrid fiber-coax and homes will have HFC connections.

“One of the things we are trying to help in working with health care providers is better optimizing their ability to save money,” Braham said. “Whether it is through a two-way video connection into the home for follow-ups with patients or expanding or extending the network into areas where having the full complement of two-way video services and having the ability to exchange electronic medical record with multiple health-care providers enables better post-op care. We are looking to develop products and services that will further provide value and we are teaming with those folks to combine their core services with our core services to collectively create solutions that have a stronger value proposition for commercial as well as residential customers.”

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