Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Mobility Could One Day Save Your Life (and Business)

By: Jay McBain

One of the most exciting areas in healthcare is the emergence of new telemedicine technologies.  The use of long-distance video and data hookups linking remote community hospitals with specialists in large centers is saving lives.  In fact, recent studies have shown that telemedicine can provide the same level of care as having everyone in the same room.

New technologies are being introduced that are significantly improving the quantity and quality of patient outcomes.  Adding to this, a new level of specialization is emerging, allowing a much broader application of these technologies:

Telecardiology                                  Telepsychiatry                                Teleradiology
Telepathology                                   Teledermatology                             Teledentistry
Telesurgery                                       Teletrauma                                     Telerehabilitation
Telepharmacy                                   Telenursing                                     Telestroke

Here are some key trends driving new possibilities and challenges in remote healthcare:

Mobility – We are currently experiencing the first phase of pervasive computing, where billions of people will be leveraging trillions of devices and sensors.  The surge of smartphones and tablets, combined with the saturation of laptops, is driving a global phenomenon where society is connected all the time, regardless of location.  Thousands of new mobility products are emerging such as the connected automobile, refrigerators, glass surfaces right down to WiFi enabled toothbrushes.  Hundreds of WiFi enabled medical device categories have also emerged from simple weight scales, blood pressure monitors to more complex remote diagnostic equipment.

Ubiquitous Connectivity – One of the main limitations of early telemedicine solutions was the cost/complexity of obtaining quality bandwidth.  According to the World Bank, over 75% of the world’s population now has access to cell phones with over 6 billion devices now in use.  These cell networks are steadily improving and the majority of them now support seamless video across broadband level speeds.

Cloud Computing – The transition of key healthcare applications into the cloud has been growing steadily over the past few years.  It got a relatively slow start due to factors such as country specific regulations, fears of patient record security as well as industry demographics.  Applications are becoming smarter as more critical information is shared and more accessible as mobility and connectivity are driving more use cases.

Demographics – Doctors entering the system now, the so-called “millennials”, were born into the PC generation and have likely carried a mobile phone for over half their lives.  In fact, a recent study reported 70% of younger doctors report they use their smartphone clinically.  Healthcare will continue the virtual trend as baby boomer doctors retire and new generations of technology inclined doctors take their place. 

Consumerization – With the growth of consumer devices for self-diagnosis and treatment, combined with the proliferation of personal social networks, a number of potential pitfalls could arise in delivering telemedicine.  Imagine diagnosing a patient in 140 characters over Twitter or an impromptu Skype session dealing with sensitive medical issues.  While this may seem insecure and ineffective, consumer behavior may demand the health industry explore these mediums.

At the speed these new technologies are driving telemedicine, there remains significant barriers to adoption in emergency and critical care units. One major barrier is the regulatory challenges related to the difficulty and cost of obtaining licensure across multiple states, malpractice protection and privileges at multiple facilities. 

Another barrier is the lack of acceptance and reimbursement by government payers and some commercial insurance carriers creating a major financial barrier, which places the investment burden squarely upon the hospital or healthcare system.  Finally, cultural barriers exist driving a lack of desire of some doctors to adapt clinical paradigms for telemedicine applications.

How do Technology Providers take advantage of these trends?

The future of healthcare will be very personal and in real-time.  Facilities will need to be connected with the latest video, audio and networking technologies to enable specialists to connect with their patients immediately and deliver the quality necessary to improve outcomes. 

Health professionals will need to be armed with these tools regardless of their location.  Telemedicine will evolve from point to point connections across facilities to person to person across pervasive devices.  The doctor may be in his car while the patient could be out in the middle of a farm field – with other specialists and local emergency response teams all listening in.

The opportunities around consulting, integration, technology deployment, remote management, industry compliance management and service will grow significantly over the next 5 years.  Understanding industry and technology trends and being able to deliver the services, hardware and software to enable specialized solutions will be the key.