How High Bandwidth, Low Latency Ethernet Communications Is Changing The Practice Of Medicine
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New research findings, new technologies, and the ever- more urgent needs for speed and cost-efficiency are converging to drive a revolution in medicine. Supporting this convergence are high-speed secure telecommunications networks, enabling unprecedented teamwork among institutions, researchers, practitioners and patients to create a new paradigm: telemedicine, the exchange of medical information via electronic communications among dispersed facilities and patients to improve patient health.
Ethernet enables high bandwidth telemedicine applications including:
- Remote consultations
- Remote monitoring
- Continuing medical education
The goal of telemedicine:
Telemedicine breaks down barriers of distance: for example, in rural areas where the doctor-to-patients ratio is high and where quality care (both routine and emergency) can be hard to reach; and barriers of time, which is critical in emergencies such as stroke, heart attack and trauma, is where telemedicine helps close the gap and improve outcomes. In cases such as rehabilitation, diabetes and mental health where routine check-in supports successful results, telemedicine brings doctors and patients together. Telemedicine also helps overcome some practical barriers, even in metropolitan areas. Delivering medical care in prisons, for example, offers unusual challenges of safety and security for providers. Telemedicine can help doctors treat patients while minimizing the potential risk presented by such settings. Nursing homes are often located in metropolitan areas where Ethernet-based services are available. Ethernet offers a cost-effective network alternative to transporting patients to a medical facility.
Telemedicine In Practice
As high-speed, high volume telecommunications overcome time and miles between doctors and patients, the speed of effective care delivery accelerates, and the costs of delivering quality treatment can fall. Ease of activating new end users with minimal training, low equipment costs, and the flexibility and functionality of the Ethernet infrastructure extend sophisticated capabilities into areas where the delivery of quality healthcare was sometimes problematical before. Instead of requiring patients to travel physically, data transmitted from individual households can be centralized and monitored remotely, and doctors and patients can communicate without time and money expended on travel or slow records transfer. Patient portals permit patients and their families to participate actively in their own cases, to send and receive real-time information and to take daily steps to better health. As Ethernet services deliver greater bandwidth with low latency, both asynchronous and synchronous collaborations have emerged in every medical specialty.
Health information exchanges (HIE) are an important development in transforming healthcare, relying on secure sharing of electronic patient information between clinicians, administrators, and payers. Affordable and flexible Ethernet- based services are ideal for supporting HIE. The key is high bandwidth and low latency in the connection between the medical facility, care team and the patient. When care providers can access all of a patient’s information at the point of care including test results, current medications, allergies and previous history, better treatment decisions can be made resulting in lower costs and improved outcomes.
Security and reliability are both essential in handling medical records. A national leader in musculoskeletal clinical care, teaching, and research uses Ethernet to link its 14 regional offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Ethernet permits secure data transmission of even sizable files with far greater reliability than legacy T1 systems, supporting the practice’s medical and business leadership in the area. Ethernet reliability meets the practice’s standards for quality in everything it does including transmitting medical images and information.
Grand Rounds are used as a teaching tool to permit medical specialists to consult on patient prognosis, evaluate patient status, and collaborate with colleagues without leaving their point of care location. Metro Ethernet enables multimedia distance applications such as Virtual Grand Rounds (VGR), which uses audio, video and synchronized visuals over the network. The addition of Metro Ethernet and the concept of Virtual Grand Rounds have dramatically changed the way Continuing Medical Education (CME) is delivered.
Telemedicine Via Ethernet: A Better Investment
The rapid adoption of Ethernet, with its standard interface, has helped accelerate new technology, devices, and data to support emerging practices of telemedicine.
The prerequisite of ensuring service continuity for legacy applications over Ethernet is critical, and Ethernet services delivers on all of those needs. The sheer volume of data that Ethernet can handle permits doctors and researchers to innovate and collaborate in ways never before possible. Healthcare enterprises are already familiar with LANs for internal and should have no trouble adopting Ethernet for network services.
Comcast Ethernet offers the robust, scalable backbone for telemedicine often for less than the cost of legacy T1 networks. The size and scalability of Ethernet support applications such as high-definition video that are essential to quality diagnostics and treatment.
The financial advantages offered by Ethernet make it a better investment than legacy T1 systems. The advantages can be realized both at once, and then on an ongoing basis as the system grows. The bandwidth of Ethernet is multiples of that of the legacy systems, and Ethernet is rapidly scalable to add additional capacity quickly as technology evolves with no additional equipment. Speed and flexibility of expansion permit care providers to expand their telemedicine programs to additional practice areas and to collaborate with other growing networks instead of being limited by a network infrastructure whose capabilities are overwhelmed.
Many additional telemedicine applications already in use help improve the efficiency of medical treatment, training and information transfer, among them: telepathology, in which tissue samples can be imaged digitally and transferred to pathology laboratories for review in real time without physical transfer; and Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS), wherein large image files can be transmitted, stored and retrieved securely and accurately; physician dictation and large data files can be transmitted instantly; and patient care can be supported by geographically disperse collaborators with maximized cost- effective results.
Ethernet is gaining traction in health networks thanks to its network simplicity, high bandwidth capacity, scalable and flexible service provisioning, and most-important, significant savings in capital investments for equipment and service deployments. The need to establish end-to-end service reliability and measurable performance guarantees, and access already exists in many locations where access is required, and Comcast is expanding and investing in new locations daily.
Telemedicine is impelled by market forces: aging populations; widespread increases in chronic illnesses; more patients who desire to receive treatment at home instead of in centralized facilities; financial pressures, resulting from limited financial resources and the need for ever- greater cost-efficiency; and time pressures—put simply, patients can’t wait. The key to this growing trend is robust multidirectional information flow among all involved parties: research institutions, health care practitioners, government and patients. Comcast Ethernet communications permit vast quantities of data to be moved securely, accurately and quickly, supporting these new capabilities, delivering critical, cost-management benefits, and helping to accelerate this revolution in medicine.
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