APCO, Text100 launch health technology group

Stig Albinus, APCO
Stig Albinus, APCO

Public relations firm and policy shop APCO Worldwide and tech-centric PR shop Text100 Global Communications launched a new initiative Wednesday that seeks to make disruptive healthcare concepts and technology like telemedicine and interoperability become integral parts of healthcare.

Called ATDigitalHealth, the joint offering will work on issues such as interoperability of electronic health records and medical devices and promoting telehealth services, particularly among lawmakers.

Stig Albinus, who chairs APCO's global healthcare practice, told MM&M the team will focus on creating “a positive environment for access to personal health technologies and telemedicine.”

This may sound like a familiar challenge, but as seen by the effort to implement electronic health records, establishing a technology or a company as an integral part of the US healthcare system is not easy: The federal government has spent more than $29 billion to encourage hospitals to use electronic health records but, as reported by The New York Times and others, EHR vendors have protected their business by preventing their systems from connecting with those from rival companies.

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Much like EHRs, the telehealth sector is also seeking to become a more common part of the healthcare experience. Differences in state laws about how telehealth can be used are one challenge. Consistent insurance reimbursement is another challenge.

Making telehealth a widely used technology will likely require a multi-faceted approach that includes addressing state and federal lawmakers, health insurers and medical groups, among others. One provision of the Telehealth Enhancement Act, which was introduced in April, seeks to allow accountable care organizations to cover remote healthcare as a supplemental healthcare benefit. A separate bill introduced in the Senate in May would allow Medicare to cover remote treatment for stroke as long as the patient is in a location with a telecommunication system.

Advocates for such digital health efforts cite advantages like convenience and the possibility of lower costs while also arguing that critics are trying to protect local physician practices. The firms say they will help clients do this by creating audience-specific narratives that show a proposal's benefits and establish support by working with medical societies, patient advocacy groups, health insurers, policy makers and technology firms.

Albinus anticipates clients will likely fall into one of three categories: traditional health systems and hospitals that want to use technology, technology firms that want to go into healthcare (such as Apple) and what he called pure-play digital health companies or startups that want to apply their technology to a bigger, healthcare-related business opportunity.

The two agencies previously collaborated on the BlackBerry account. Text100 Senior VP Erin Humphrey said this experience prompted the partners to seek out another chance to collaborate. They landed on digital healthcare because they wanted to pursue an industry that was being driven by technical innovation and that would tap into their combined expertise of establishing strategic relationships, social engagement and public relations.


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