Opinion: Cloud adoption stimulates telemedicine growth

Healthcare professionals in today’s internet age have access to a wide variety of tools that previous generations could only dream of. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the benefits technology can bring to their practice, are unwilling to make the transition from paper-based data to a digital format or are intimidated by a myriad of IT terms and definitions associated with eHealth.

Like Steve McQueen says in The Magnificent Seven, “We deal in lead, friend”. Medical staff are trained in a specific area – patient care – and are unlikely to embrace a process that requires a new skill set or may look like a complex new process.

However, it is worth noting that providers of eHealth solutions understand the problems facing practices and clinics in Australia and it is these providers that manage the infrastructure required to increase efficiency. By not having to worry about supporting new technology, medical staff can devote more time to their core business and ultimately save or prolong more lives.

Providers that have no knowledge of healthcare are likely to recommend solutions they are familiar with – solutions normally used in traditional companies – rather than those that are best suited to clinics and practices.

Most small clinics will not retain an on-site IT team and will avoid the problems of maintaining servers, back-ups and archives by utilising the cloud. In this situation, all maintenance, security and staff are the responsibility of the provider.

Telemedicine is a term used to define the use of technology (whether mobile or other internet-enabled devices) that allows easier collaboration. Whether it is between medical teams in multiple locations, between patients and doctors or between mobile clinics and their primary base, the use of telemedicine applications can allow video conferencing, remote consults, immediate access to EHRs and eliminate geographical issues, where patients are far from the nearest healthcare facility.

The use of cloud services ensures connectivity anywhere and is ideal for those in remote or rural areas where it is necessary to travel for days to visit a clinic or consult with a specialist. The use of video conferencing, for example, eliminates the need to travel and results in a service comparable with that received by patients in large cities.

As mentioned previously, the cloud makes the most sense when rolling out a telemedicine infrastructure as any internet-enabled device can connect easily, with user permissions and access levels easily added and removed.

In addition, the collaborative elements of the cloud ensure that geographical distances are no longer a consideration, as even follow-ups can be facilitated online. Security concerns are also reduced as data is stored in a central location and never on a portable device.

Additional cloud benefits include:

  • Scalability – you only pay for the space used on the cloud
  • Automatic updates – security patches are applied on release
  • Disaster recovery – back-ups are automatically managed, normally there are multiple back-ups in at least two data centres
  • Redundancy – broadband access is guaranteed as multiple connections are available, if one fails, another takes over
  • Flexibility – additional bandwidth is available when needed, which is not possible for traditional on-site networks, given the expense involved
  • Works anywhere – all that’s needed for access is a broadband or 3G connection
  • Collaboration – a wide range or productivity apps are used easily to share information
  • Document management – one access point to documents ensures control and prevent access to those without approved credentials
  • Security – data files are more secure than on portable devices, with thousands of smartphones and laptops lost or stolen each year
  • Green-tech – varbon footprints for each clinic is reduced, as individual on-premise servers are not used
  • Access to high-tech solutions without investing in a complex hardware infrastructure – additional saving are possible as IT support is dramatically reduced.

Bear in mind that not all cloud service providers are created equal and perform your research, availing of trials where possible to evaluate the service before committing to a contract and paying careful attention to ‘exit clauses’.

As for telemedicine, apart from data management and document control features, software applications are available that overcome clinic shortages, improve patient care and allow remote monitoring of patients after treatment.

ICT allows patients to send clinical statistics (such as weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and activity) to their healthcare provider, without an outpatient visit. This frees up a consulting room for another patient. Physicians can consult with their peers, sharing charts, x-rays and other information to ensure an accurate diagnosis before treatment begins.

With benefits like these and with ongoing legislation that will ultimately embrace technological advances in eHealth, clinics need to implement a telemedicine solution sooner rather than later, especially if their patients and peers are in other locations. Government services are already in place for eligible aged-care homes and to patients of Aboriginal Medical Services across Australia.

Rob Khamas is an eHealth solutions strategist with REND Tech Associates.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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