Healthcare Finds Hope in Telecom

A summit met in San Diego on Monday to brainstorm the merging of healthcare and telecommunications technology, a field known as “mobile medicine,” which is quickly gaining momentum.

The summit, called mHealth, was hosted by the World Economic Forum and lured over 700 innovators from both the telecom and healthcare industries to discuss a collection of business and consumer practices that should be pivotal in redefining healthcare.

At a time when the funding for the Obama Administration’s plan for health reform relies on the leveraging of technology, and with a proposed $10 billion set aside per year over the next five years, the role of telecom as a steward in the collective health of the nation is set to spike.

Obama’s administration maintains that investing in electronic health information systems and improving access to prevention and disease management programs will keep doctors efficiently informed and people out of the hospitals, two measures that are key to long-term healthcare sustainability.

According to a press release from the administration, a study by the Rand Corporation reported that if most hospitals and doctor offices adopted electronic health records, up to $77 billion of savings would be realized each year.

Telecom can play a big part in those savings.

Take, for example, devices such as the wireless blood monitor, a machine with internal components set to measure a patient’s blood pressure and send alerts back to his or her physician. The physician will be alerted in times of emergency and will have detailed information tracking the patient’s vitals.

Other products and apps abound, from hundreds of healthy eating applications people have downloaded on their smartphones to wireless-complete-health-monitoring systems that connect with physicians and measure activity levels, blood pressure and weight.

 All of these technological features serve to keep patients healthy while minimizing costs of actual visits to the doctors.

Companies such as WellPoint have organized programs where members can consult health care specialists through telecommunications media such as text messaging and video chat.

According to an article in the IndyStar, WellPoint, an Indianapolis health insurance firm, is reminiscent of physician house calls, only this time with doctors coming to patients in the virtual rather than physical realm.

Physicians will be able to speak with patients in real time to review symptoms, prescribe medicine, schedule follow-ups and review medical information over the Internet or telephone.

A good indicator of the growing “mobile medicine” field is the Ontario Telemedicine Network. The OTN was founded four years ago by the government of Canada and uses two-way videoconferencing and telediagnostic equipment to connect patients in one location to doctors in another.

In four years, the network has grown to facilitate 102,781 patient consults in fiscal year 2009/10, a 91 percent increase over the previous year, making it one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world, according to a June 15 press release.

As innovations increase and consumers become more aware of the products, accessibility and ease-of-use associated with such innovations, the telecom revolution should pick up momentum in the realm of healthcare, enhancing consistency and efficiency.