The link between health care and broadband-both wired and wireless-is one of the significant, but somewhat underplayed, stories of the Internet age.
Health care is an area-along with first responders and precious few others-in which the promise of the Internet can be fully reached in a relatively straight-forward manner. eWeek offers a nice feature on the topic. It plays off of President Obama's State of the Union Address, in which he mentioned telehealth as a significant benefit of the drive to ubiquitous broadband. The story mentions American Well, Epric Systems, RelayHealth and Kaiser Permanente as providers of telehealth services.
The story-which makes the interesting point that telehealth "borrows" security measures from online banking-offers some examples of people getting the type of care remotely that usually would require in-person treatment:
During an Online Care session, physicians access the patient's clinical data and activate a video chat or phone call to diagnose conditions and prescribe medication. The Online Care physician then sends a record of the visit to the patient's primary doctor. Patients can consult with doctors in areas such as pediatrics, ob-gyn, internal medicine and urgent care.
There is a lot of doing well in this form of doing good. Vendors and service providers can benefit from telehealth and telemedicine. Benefits include helping providers fulfill stringent security and privacy requirements set forth in The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); providing and running sophisticated networking equipment and esoteric innovations such as pill tops that report to doctors on whether they have been opened; and remote diabetes and heart monitors.
The old saying that "When you've got health, you've got everything" is true-and something that is taken to heart by users of the Internet. Parallel to the use of the Internet by practitioners is its use by end users (i.e., the patients). A report released this week by the Pew Internet Project and the California HealthCare Foundation says that 80 percent of Internet users look for health care information online. That equates to 59 percent of all U.S. adults. The study was based on 3,000 interviews conducted in August and September of 2010. It also suggests that telehealth and telemedicine won't be hard sells.
The breakdown was wide, and consisted of searches on food and drug safety and recalls (29 percent and 24 percent, respectively); pregnancy and childbirth (19 percent); memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's (17 percent); medical test results (16 percent); chronic pain management (14 percent); long-term care for the elderly or disabled (12 percent); and end-of-life decisions (7 percent).
The California Telehealth Network is a good example of the possibilities of telehealth. The network, which is partially funded by the Federal Communications Commission, is run by the University of California, Davis. The plan is to link 800 rural and underserved facilities with each other and the eight University of California medical centers, according to the story. The sites are about 65 percent to 75 percent rural. The story describes both operations that are starting this month and other initiatives slated for this spring that will find and reach out to other facilities.
Also this week, a system in Craig, Colo., will use telehealth equipment to enable about 8,000 veterans in the rural Colorado communities of Craig, Glenwood Springs, Montrose and Grand Junction to communicate with the regional headquarters in Denver, according to The Tribune-Phonograph.
There is tremendous buzz around many things that touch on wired and wireless broadband. In many cases, the hype is earned and in some, it's not. One area in which billions of dollars is pouring is telehealth and that should make us all feel better.