WASHINGTON, September 15, 2009 - Most hospitals are unable to effectively use telemedicine because of the lack of a truly high-speed connection, said Douglas Van Houweling, CEO of Internet2, speaking at the Federal Communications Commission broadband workshop on September 15.
Van Houweling explained that even with a T1 connection, generally dedicated bandwidth of 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps), it takes 10 hours to send a 500 megabyte image scan coast-to-coast from an MRI or PET scan. By contrast, hospitals which are connected with universities that have Internet2 access, are able to send the same information in under a minute. The ability to send crucial information quickly is a vital portion of telemedicine.
Traditionally telemedicine is thought of only to help those in rural America. However, with advanced broadband connections not only to the hospitals but also to the home, individuals will be able to be diagnosed from home. This ability to see a doctor quickly and without infecting others will help the spreading of disease and allow for easy follow up from medical professions to citizens.
Distance education for medical students using telepresence technology is one of the other major benefits discussed at the workshop. Instead of having students crowd around a doctor while a procedure is being conducted; the instructor wears a camera on their head while students from around the country, and the world, watch remotely.
The main impediment to developing a high-speed network for telemedicine is cost. The monthly cost of a high speed multi-gigabit system for a hospital is approximately $12,000, and current commercially-available networks aren’t able to handle the speeds and reliability needed by hospitals. Many of the panelists felt that the best solution for hospitals was to build out their own dedicated networks, which would be used only to connect hospitals, health centers and other medical facilities.
Others participating on the panel to talk about the role the high-speed broadband brings to the healthcare community included Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Karen Rheuban, external affairs medical director in the Office of Telemedicine at the University of Virginia and President of the American Telemedicine Association.
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