The Reality of Telehealth: Health Care Facilities Need Faster, More Reliable Networks

By: Larry Loeb| - Leave a comment

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According to the American Telemedicine Association, President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget proposal would allow Medicare Advantage organizations to use telehealth mediums to deliver medical services. This strategy could generate more than $160 million in savings over the next decade.

This program has the potential to improve the way care is coordinated and foster more timely exchanges between specialists as it integrates face-to-face and remote access in both rural and urban areas. While this type of effort has been ongoing for years, the new federal proposal will likely speed up its adoption.

Further, the proposal addresses the common problem of beneficiary access to care when it would be difficult to travel to a provider. Since the decision to use telehealth would be at the discretion of the beneficiary, the quality of the care delivered would more than likely affect the extent of its use.

Given these trends, it is time for providers of all sizes to consider this modality of patient care — after all, the next generation of telemedicine is here.

Evaluating Health Care Networks

The overarching technical consideration when it comes to telehealth will be health care providers’ networks. Will they be able to handle the higher bandwidth that will come along with this care model? Will those networks be secure enough to handle the sensitive data they will routinely carry?

The answers to these questions will vary among providers, and each situation will require a thorough survey of what network infrastructure is in place and what changes and upgrades will be needed to meet the new level of service. The survey must take into account all parts of a network, from the LANs and WANs to the data systems that need to be integrated into the telehealth effort.

When evaluating a health care provider’s network, consideration must also be given to the voice capabilities that will ride on top of the clinical data path. This voice mode is how many patients will communicate with providers, and as such, it must be reliable, even in situations where various carrier systems are needed to connect patients from distant locations.

Integrating New Tools Into a Network for Telehealth

Cognitive computing tools will also be more involved in the telemedicine of the future. While cognitive efforts will enhance results, it is important to understand what data these tools require and how these needs affect the design of the network. Not only that, but once health care providers start to rely on a tool, its network connection cannot falter; lives will depend on reliable networks.

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating that a facility’s network must be able to connect securely to a cloud that complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The current trends in data storage and computing all lead to the cloud, and the tools that will be used in the future will live there, too. Furthermore, a facility’s ability to use patient data sources will demand that same level of connectivity.

Telemedicine at health care facilities will need strong networks and infrastructure to be capable and reliable. When planning these networks, health care decision-makers should consider which types of technology will allow them to deliver the highest quality care to patients that need it.

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