It’s a beautiful thing when a career and passion come together. From serving in the United States Marine Corps to saving lives as an emergency nurse and now serving as Polycom’s resident telemedicine expert, Ron Emerson, RN BSN and Polycom’s Global Director of Healthcare, has always let his passions navigate his unique career path. Hear Ron’s inspiring story, and get to know Polycom’s resident nurse through the following Q&A.
Q: What was your career path to Polycom?
A: I have a very diverse background. I was born and raised in Northern Michigan. My dad was in construction and worked very hard. College was never really something that was talked about in the family I grew up in. Everyone either joined the workforce or the military after high school. For me, I joined the Marine Corps.
I started out in infantry and had the opportunity to join the special operations unit FAST (fleet anti-terrorism security team) Company. We travelled around the world providing high-level security and aiding in hostage rescue situations. For example, in the 1990s we travelled to the United States Embassy in Liberia to provide security in the midst of civil war conflict. I also got to learn a lot of different skills through sniper school, anti-terrorist driving school, high-risk personnel school, etc.
Once I got out of the Marine Corps, I decided to go to school to become a teacher. During that time I also got a job with a biomedical company travelling to patients’ homes to check their medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators and CPAP machines. It was all so interesting to me that I decided to change my major to respiratory therapy, and later changed one last time to RN BSN due to more job opportunities.
After graduating I moved to Maine where I worked in acute cardio pulmonology at Central Maine Medical Center. I also worked per diem in home health nursing and skilled nursing facilities to get experience in as many environments as I could. I knew I eventually wanted to get into the tech/business side of healthcare.
The next stop in my career path was working as a telemedicine coordinator for Maine Telemedicine Services. I taught nurses how to present patients to doctors and worked on protocols and policy. Throughout my years there, I worked my way up to become the executive director of the network.
Eight years ago I was approached by Polycom. They were looking for someone with real-life experience in the medical field and a passion for technology. That’s what led me to where I am now: Polycom’s Global Director of Healthcare.
Since I’ve been at Polycom, I’ve remained very active in the industry. I’ve served on the American Telemedicine Association Policy Committee and was also the chair of the Industry Council. I was on the board of the American Telemedicine Association, and in 2010, I received the prestigious honor of being named the person in the industry who has advanced/promoted the telemedicine field the most.
While at Polycom, I’ve visited 35 countries and looked at the different healthcare models and best practices in both the private and public sectors. The technology is a piece of the bigger equation. It’s about aligning policy, regulations, reimbursement and matching incentives with clinicians and healthcare organizations to utilize our technology to provide better care for the population.
Q: What’s an interesting example of your previous telehealth experience? A: At Maine Telemedicine Services we were involved in developing Maine’s technology infrastructure. We helped develop regulatory, reimbursement and policies that would allow healthcare professionals to use our technology and increase access to care. Some of the things we did provided the Maine Department of Corrections a telemedicine program that gave inmates and prisoners across the state access to healthcare. We also helped set up infrastructure for pediatric neurology and psychiatric assessments.
However, one of the most interesting things I’ve done was partnering with an organization called the Maine Seacoast Missionary Society (MSMS). MSMS is based out of Bar Harbor in Maine. For more than 100 years, the organization’s mission has been to provide support—both physical and spiritual—to people living on the small islands off the coast of Maine. These small islands have communities of 30-40 people who make a living from fishing. One of the key challenges for those communities is access to healthcare.
We decided to bring healthcare to them and developed a telemedicine clinic inside of a 100-ton, 73-foot long ship. Called the Sunbeam, the telemedicine ship has been operating for the past 14 years, driven by Nurse Sharon Daley.
Every two weeks the Sunbeam makes the journey out to the islands, some of which, like Matinicus, are 25 miles off the coast. The ship docks at each of the islands for days at a time and patients can connect to different providers on the mainland using telemedicine. Primary care doctors, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, cardiologists, endocrinologists, and others provide their services to patients living on the remote islands. The nurse on board, Sharon Daley, provides clinical services, including strep throat cultures, lab work, blood work, and more.
It was a great, inspiring program to be a part of.
Q: How do you see technology and, more specifically Polycom, playing a role to help facilitate change in our healthcare system? A: We know that from 1960-2010, the U.S. national health expenditure went up 5x higher than gross domestic product, but we haven’t changed the way we do healthcare. People are still seeing and interacting with their doctors in the same way they did 50 years ago. So what changes healthcare? Reform. And, well, we finally have it. The Affordable Care Act is changing the way healthcare organizations have to provide care. We’re moving away from fee-for-service and moving toward population health. Entire care teams now get reimbursed for keeping someone healthy, which promotes more coordinated care. In 2012, out of 26 million hospital discharges, the primary doctor didn’t even know what their patient was in the hospital for 50 percent of the time. That’s something we can—and should—change.
The challenge is: How do we accomplish this when we have large geographic distances and a shortage in healthcare providers?
We have an amazing opportunity with 87 percent of people in the United States having access to internet in one form or another. This gives us touch points where we can reach people in a more meaningful, effective, and impactful manner.
Research shows that 77 percent of people’s time is either spent at work or at home. But guess where most people can’t get healthcare on demand? Work and home. We have the opportunity to change this.
When it comes to use cases like prevention and wellness, care coordination, remote monitoring, and telehealth, this can all be done through internet-connected video conferencing. Imagine, for example, a private microclinic kiosk in your work office. That’s just one example of how delivery models might change.
The bottom line is we have the reform, and we have connection points and the technology needed to help healthcare organizations figure out these new delivery models.
Q: What’s the most unique situation you’ve been in where you had to use Polycom technology to give nursing advice? A: I was in Maine working in a skilled nursing facility. There was a patient with no access to a dermatologist because he lived in a very rural area. This gentleman had a very visible and serious-looking skin condition affecting his entire body, but because he was too far to transport to a dermatologist and his primary care physician couldn’t diagnose the cause, he wasn’t receiving adequate treatment to fix his condition.
We ended up using telemedicine to connect with a dermatologist and right away they came up with a treatment plan. Within three weeks he was back to normal condition. It was amazing to see!
Q: What do you like to do in your free time? A: I love to spend time with my wife and 10-year-old son Ryan. We are a very active family. My son plays soccer and is also a competitive swimmer, and I am very involved in both and am even an assistant coach for his soccer team. I’m also very into physical fitness and weightlifting. I have practiced Brazilian Jujitsu for nine years, and I also enjoy competing in Tough Mudder obstacle races (pictured right.)
Lastly, I love taking advantage of all the outdoor activities the great state of Maine has to offer, especially hiking.
What do you think is the future of healthcare? What do governments and the industry need to do to manage healthcare challenges? Have your say on what healthcare will look like in 2025, take our global survey now.