White: Why medicine needs broadband

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 17, 2010        

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By Joel White, Executive Director, Health IT Now Coalition

Joel White, Health IT Now CoalitionOver the past decade the ability of even small medical practices to access the Internet using a broadband connection has given us an entirely new set of tools to be far more efficient in the backroom record-keeping of a practice, better able to bring high-tech diagnostics and treatments to rural areas; and, as our population continues to age, save potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in office visits by allowing seniors to monitor their vital signs at home and send the results automatically to their physician.

The inefficiencies in our health system are well documented. Paper can quite literally kill by fostering undetected problems and promoting medical errors. Administrative costs are also needlessly incurred and duplicate tests are ordered, boosting medical costs. Some have estimated this waste and inefficiency at hundreds of billions per year. Fortunately, we are on a path to ending this mindless system by promoting health information technology Broadband access to the Internet maximizes the potential of Electronic Health Records (EHR). EHRs allow patient specific information to be used by a provider to deliver the most appropriate patient care at the right time. It also flags any potential problems before they become more complex. EHRs are also important tools to engage patients in their own care needs. They cannot be used to their potential, however, without broadband. The applications that will embed in EHRs – video consults, large file advanced imaging, and remote guided surgeries – are not effective without high speed connectivity. These applications are literally saving lives and should be promoted.

Another way broadband enhances the technological application of medicine is through telemedicine. Telemedicine is literally changing the way healthcare is being delivered to huge swaths of America. With the increasing cost of facilities and equipment, more tests and procedures are being scheduled at fewer, larger medical centers.

With telemedicine equipment connected to the Internet via broadband, doctors in rural areas can have specialists examine their patients – both pre- and post-procedure – saving often long, expensive and painful trips to the city for what are often routine follow-up exams.

Finally, senior citizens who are living longer, now find it is easier (and far cheaper) to stay in their homes through the use of remote monitoring equipment that can read vital signs and send them along to their medical professional. Anyone who has dealt with an otherwise healthy parent for whom it is no longer safe to drive, not having to make a monthly or even weekly trip to the doctor’s office for a nurse to take those same readings saves both the practice and the patient money, and permits elderly Americans to have their status checked without having to have someone drive them.

Another use of broadband to the homes of senior citizens is the ability to communicate with their children using inexpensive, or free, web cam software. Parent-child interaction is therapeutic for both. Monitoring can speedily alert adult children of dangerous and potentially life threatening changes in their parents’ conditions. This is not a convenience issue, but a health issue. The tangible benefits to providers, their patients and the people who care for and love them cannot be measured, but can be adopted to promote better health and lower costs. All this is possible because of broadband access to 95 percent of the homes and businesses in America. Getting high-speed internet access to the remaining five percent is the goal of Broadband for America.

Joel White is the executive director of the Health IT Now Coalition and a member of the health care working group for Broadband for America (http://www.broadbandforamerica.com). Follow Health IT Now Coalition on Twitter (http://twitter.com/HealthITNOW).