How high-bandwidth, low-latency Ethernet communications are changing medicine Featured

3:29pm EDT October 1, 2012
How high-bandwidth, low-latency Ethernet communications are changing medicine

New research findings, new technologies and the ever-more urgent need for speed and cost-efficiency are converging to drive a revolution in medicine. Supporting this convergence are high-speed, secure telecommunications networks, enabling unprecedented teamwork among institutions, researchers, practitioners and patients to create a new paradigm — telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information via electronic communications among dispersed facilities and patients to improve health,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “The goal of telemedicine is to improve access to care, and Ethernet enables high-bandwidth telemedicine applications including remote consultations, remote monitoring and continuing medical education.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how telecommunications and medicine are joining forces to improve patient health.

How does telemedicine work and what are some examples of its use?

Telemedicine breaks down the barriers of distance and time to improve outcomes, especially for emergencies such as stroke, heart attack and trauma. It can be used in rural areas where the doctor-to-patient ratio is high and quality care — both routine and emergency — can be hard to reach. In cases where routine check-in supports successful results, telemedicine brings doctors and patients together.

Telemedicine also helps overcome practical barriers. Delivering medical care in prisons, for instance, offers challenges that can be mitigated with telemedicine. And in nursing homes, Ethernet-based services offer a cost-effective network alternative to transporting patients to a medical facility.

In addition, Grand Rounds are used as a teaching tool to permit medical specialists to consult on patient prognosis, evaluate patient status and collaborate with colleagues without leaving their point of care location. Ethernet enables multimedia distance applications such as Virtual Grand Rounds, which uses audio, video and synchronized visuals over the network, dramatically changing the way continuing medical education is delivered.

How does telemedicine create lower costs and better quality treatment for health providers?

As high-speed, high-volume telecommunications overcome time and miles between doctors and patients, the speed of effective care delivery accelerates, and the costs of delivering quality treatment can fall. By being able to activate new users with minimal training and low equipment costs, the flexibility and functionality of Ethernet delivers quality health care into areas that were sometimes previously problematic. Instead of requiring patients to travel, data from individual households can be centralized and monitored remotely. Doctors and patients can communicate without time and money expended on travel or the slow transfer of records. Patient portals permit patients to participate actively in their own cases, send and receive real-time information and take daily steps to better health. As Ethernet services deliver greater bandwidth, collaborations have emerged in every medical specialty.

The financial advantages offered by Ethernet make it a better investment than legacy T1 systems. The bandwidth is multiples of that of legacy systems and can be rapidly scalable to add capacity. This speed and flexibility permits care providers to expand practice areas and collaborate with other growing networks without being limited by technology.

How can health information exchanges (HIE) benefit from telemedicine?

HIE are an important development in transforming health care, relying on secure sharing of electronic patient information among clinicians, administrators and payers. Affordable and flexible Ethernet-based services are ideal for supporting HIE. The key is high bandwidth and low latency in connections among medical facilities, the care team and the patient. When providers can access all of a patient’s information, better treatment decisions are made, resulting in lower costs and improved outcomes.

What are additional applications of telemedicine?

  • Telepathology, with which tissue samples can be imaged digitally and transferred to pathology laboratories for review in real time.

  • Picture archiving and communication systems, in which large image files can be transmitted, stored and retrieved securely.

  • Physician dictation and large data files that can be transmitted instantly.

  • Patient care supported by geographically dispersed collaborators with maximized cost-effective results.

What does the future of telemedicine and Ethernet applications look like?

Ethernet is gaining traction in health networks thanks to its network simplicity, high bandwidth capacity, scalable and flexible service provisioning, and significant savings in capital investments for equipment and service deployments. Ethernet handles a high volume of data that permits doctors and researchers to innovate and collaborate in ways never before possible. Health care enterprises should have no trouble adopting Ethernet for network services.

With a robust, scalable backbone, Ethernet costs less than legacy T1 networks, and offers the size and scalability to support applications such as high-definition video that are essential to quality diagnostics and treatment. Market forces further impel this expansion, such as aging populations, widespread increases in chronic illnesses, more patients who desire to receive treatment at home, financial pressures resulting from limited financial resources and the need for ever-greater cost-efficiency and time pressures where patients can’t wait.

The key is robust multidirectional information flow among all involved parties — research institutions, health care practitioners, government and patients. Ethernet communications permit vast quantities of data to be moved securely, accurately and quickly, supporting these new capabilities, delivering critical, cost-management benefits and helping to accelerate this revolution in medicine.

 

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

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