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.
According to John Horrigan, Consumer Research Director of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, demand from telemedicne applications could become greater than consumer demand. Horrigan knows quite a bit about broadband adoption. He was the Associate Director of research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which has been consistently cited in all federal research regarding broadband adoption trends.
Horrigan thinks that machine to machine communications will drive bandwidth demands in the future."Today video is driving the demand for consumers", he said. "In the future, it will be machine-to-machine that will have tremendous demands on the infrastructure."
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.
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.
In the National Broadband Plan, the FCC calls for the federal government to expand reimbursements and remove barriers to adoption by updating regulations to for device approval, credentialing, privileging and licensing.
According to the Plan: “Congress and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) should consider developing a strategy that documents the proven value of e-care technologies, proposes reimbursement reforms that incent their meaningful use and charts a path for their widespread adoption.”
The National Broadband Plan sums up the inefficiencies and problems facing the healthcare industry: "Rising costs would be less concerning if there were results. But Americans are not healthy. Sixty-one percent of American adults are overweight or obese, which often leads to medical complications. Chronic conditions, which already account for 75%3 of the nation’s health care costs, are increasing across all ages. The nation has 670,000 new cases of congestive heart failure every year, many of them fatal.5 And too often the care itself causes harm. One and a half million Americans are injured every year because of prescription drug errors, while a person dies every six minutes from an infection developed after arriving at a hospital.
The future of telemedicine remains open to innovative applications for both the medical community and patients themselves. With the burgeoning demand for consumer applications on mobile devices, many applications will continue to be available for patients to take control of their own health. Devices to measure blood pressure, control diabetes, and transmit diagnostic information to physicians and other healthcare providers are available now.