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ATA 2012: Star Trek, telemedicine and the future of healthcare

By Eric Wicklund, Editor, ATA 2012 Show Dailies

Twenty years ago, the word "telemedicine" might conjure images of Bones McCoy whipping out his tricorder to diagnose Spock or Captain Kirk -- or perhaps that fancy new video conferencing system that only the biggest, most advanced hospitals could afford to install, to communicate with... each other.

Nowadays, McCoy, Spock and Kirk are much younger and more hip, the tricorder is the subject – actually the hoped-for end result – of a global innovation challenge, and almost everyone with a tablet or smartphone can share some face-time with someone in the other room, state, country or continent.

Telemedicine has gone from a Star Trek fantasy to a tried-and-true technology, so much so that people aren't talking any more about a "tipping point." That point has come and gone. Sure, it's still a disruptive technology, with just as many skeptics as believers, but it's here to stay, in its many forms.

Those many forms, from telemedicine programs to telehealth projects to mobile health apps and platforms, will be on display this coming week at the American Telemedicine Association's 17th Annual International Meeting & Exposition, taking place at the San Jose Convention Center.

The ATA expects about 200 exhibitors this year, up from 170 last year, and an increase in attendees from 3,400 to between 4,000 and 4,500.

Beginning today and running through next Tuesday, the ATA Show Dailies, produced by MedTech Media in conjunction with the ATA, will offer news and other interactive content centered on ATA 2012. You'll read about the cutting-edge exhibitors, entertaining events and interesting education sessions at the conference, and hear from the ATA's top executives on the issues to watch now and in the future.

Who better to talk about telemedicine than the ATA's reigning president, Bernard Harris, a former astronaut now working in the venture capital universe? Or ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous, who's been the agency's point man in Washington D.C.? Or Alaska's own Stewart Ferguson, working in one of the hotbeds of telemedicine use and innovation, who'll succeed Harris as president? Or Ben Forstag, the ATA's senior director of communications, who makes sure telemedicine is never far from the minds of today's reporters, editors and consumers?

For keynote speakers, the ATA is bringing in a pair of creative minds. First, there's James "Butch" Rosser, professor of surgery at the Morehouse School of Medicine, whose résumé includes surgeon, scientist, TV personality, actor, playwright, video gamer, comic book collector and "self-proclaimed 12-year-old." He'll help kick off the conference on Sunday night. On Tuesday morning, Silicon Valley icon and philanthropist Steve Wozniak, who teamed up with Steve Jobs to form Apple Computer some 36 years ago, will grace the ATA stage.

Both men have made their mark as visionaries and creators. That's what healthcare needs right now as the nation undergoes a radical change to the healthcare landscape. It needs people who will take these telehealth, telemedicine and mobile health concepts, find new ways to implement them, and deliver the ROI that will make the world sit up and take notice.

Next year, at ATA 2013, perhaps we'll have that working tricorder, and the telemedicine successes will outnumber the concepts. Then we can start work on a transporter, and spend ATA 2014 in Fiji.

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