In rural areas of the country, telemedicine is about a doctor providing remote health care, or a pharmacy electronically filling a prescription. Access to the health care system is leveled, with patients in rural and urban areas virtually equalized. For a hospital or healthcare provider in an urban setting, it is more of a matter of economics. The cost savings when a fully automated electronic medical records system is implemented is significant. Combined with the savings in human resource expenses, there is no wonder why hospitals and doctors alike are aggressively pursuing this option.
As federal funding continues to be available for telemedicne and electronic medical records, many healthcare facilities and communities are connecting medical centers, doctor's offices and pharmacies to high speed Internet connections.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is asking the State Legislature to approve $600,000 in grant funding to help healthcare facilities install and utilize telemedicine equipment. The funding would be administered by the New Mexico Department of Health.
Telemedicine applications are one the most voracious bandwidth consumers because of how much bandwidth is required to support streaming video and high resolution diagnostic imaging.
There are many benefits to support the conversion to electronic medical records, and the use of broadband to support video conferencing. Healthcare analysts estimate that the widespread use of electronic health records could save $80 billion annually. In addition, medical errors would also be dramatically reduce because of the benefits of automated applications such as e-prescribing which increase the accuracy of a healthcare practitioner's care.
According to Governor Martinez:
“For many in our rural areas, particularly those suffering from chronic, complicated or rare illnesses, treatment can require long trips to urban centers to see specialists or other physicians,” Martinez said. “This often poses a tremendous financial burden on these patients, and can make it much more difficult for New Mexicans to get the treatment they need and deserve."
Telemedicine also alleviates the problem with the shortage of primary care physicians. Many physicians who normally would not be practicing medicine are available remotely, providing primary care health services to patients who desperately need their services.
Other benefits which are often cited to support the adoption of broadband to support the healthcare community are the ability to extend the geographic reach of healthcare and access to specialists to rural and remote areas. Many studies report a significant difference between the quality of healthcare available in rural and urban areas. Broadband facilitates video consultations, exchange of diagnostic imaging, and remote monitoring. All of these applications bring specialists from anywhere in the country (or the world) to rural areas where healthcare is limited.
With healthcare costs spiraling of control, and an aging population, in-home monitoring systems enabled by a broadband connection are becoming increasingly utilized among seniors and people with disabilities. Realtime in-home monitoring applications have the potential to not only save lives - but drastically reduce healthcare costs.
The National Broadband Plan makes several recommendations for using high-speed broadband networks to increase the use of electronic health records and health data exchange. The FCC defines E-care as the electronic exchange of information — data, images and video — to help the practice of medicine and advanced analytics.