Telemedicine and improving patient care

By Bill Prout

Studies show that physicians who study in large cities prefer to stay there and it can be difficult for rural areas to attract doctors. Additionally, as training costs rise and doctors look to large city hospitals for their careers, rural areas in states like such as Minnesota and Indiana have noticed a shortage in doctors. Short of opening medical schools in remote areas of the country there is little these small towns and counties can to do attract doctors. Working in a remote area with few facilities and less resources and peers can be difficult and states like Texas are looking to new legislation to help attract and retain young doctors.

While increasing the number of doctors in rural regions is the ideal solution, there are alternatives to solving this pressing issue. One such solution is implementing Telemedicine or telehealth facilities. A recent study from UMass Memorial finds that telemedicine can help improve ICU patient care.

Given the need for rural doctors and the potential for improved patient care telemedicine presents we would think more and more hospitals would jump at the chance to implement telemedicine policies and procedures. However, like any new idea there are barriers to this possibility. According to Dr. Jeremy Kahn who was quoted in a recent blog post by Boston.com’s Liz Kowalczyk, “while telemedicine programs have exploded in the past decade, studies of the benefits, especially in ICUs, have produced disappointing results. Policy-makers have questioned whether this expensive technology is useful at all, if it just drives up health care costs without showing a payoff of improving care.”

As with all industries medical organizations face challenges when choosing and deploying the technology that is ever more relied upon to diagnose and care for patients. These new solutions come with the burden of new training, integration hurdles, and of course have a price tag that organizations are increasingly concerned about in these trying financial times

The key here seems to be “expensive technology”. If we can lower the costs of the technology needed to connect healthcare facilities, secure patient data and monitor patients’ statuses remotely then telemedicine becomes more of a reality than wishful thinking. Unfortunately the technology necessary to create secure connections can be costly, especially when it comes to managing the technology. What good is a remote monitoring tool if it needs a full time IT administrator to make sure it stays connected?

The technology industry needs to partner with the healthcare industry to find realistic ways of connecting remote/rural healthcare facilities to doctors in more populated areas. This way we can ensure all patients are getting the best care possible. It may not be as ideal as recruiting doctors to practice in these rural areas, but it is the next best thing.

While Telemedicine programs are unique to the medical field, the criticisms and concerns are all too common when it comes to technology, and the challenges faced by administrators and IT staff can be found in most businesses today. How do we provide secure business critical services while being cost conscious.

One solution may be to use a configuration-less device such as Astaro’s RED which offers simple ‘plug n play’ connectivity which can allow remote medical professionals the ability to help care for patients while not being physically onsite. These solutions make it possible to set up a remote healthcare facility and monitor patients from afar. Solutions like Astaro RED, along with the proliferation of broadband and electronic medical records may make telehealth a reality.