High-performance network systems, software and professional services specialist, Ciena discusses how eHealth is opening the door to healthcare programs worldwide that are make an extraordinary difference to patients with chronic illnesses and helping bring services to remote areas.
The global market for eHealth is expected to more than double from about $11.6 billion in 2011 to about $27.3 billion in 2016, according to BBC Research. According to Gartner, eHealth technologies are those “that enable the connection between participants, enable care delivery, enable various care delivery models such as telemedicine or virtual medicine, enhance clinical operations and decision processes, and create digital healthcare environments.”
In the UK, the Department of Health estimates that at least three million people with long-term conditions and/or social care needs could benefit from the use of telehealth and telecare services.
eHealth is expected to play an important role in supporting the country’s aging and geographically dispersed population. Telecare provides support to help people maintain their independence and telehealth is used to monitor and record symptoms, while telemedicine deals with the actual delivery of healthcare.
There are many different varieties of eHealth applications:
Remote consultations; allowing a medic to speak or examine a patient from a different location
Consultants can also speak to each other and even perform a procedure from outside the facility, linked by the latest telecommunications networks.
Remote environmental monitoring; a falls sensor in a patient's home triggers an alert in a control centre
Remote physiological monitoring; blood pressure data is
send sent to a cardiology unit for interpretation
Store-and-forward, an ultrasound scan is captured and sent for remote interpretation
Implemented effectively as part of a whole system redesign of care, eHealth is expected to alleviate pressure on long term NHS costs and improve people's quality of life through better self-care in the home setting. This is why earlier this year a Concordat between the Department of Health and the UK telehealth and telecare industry was announced, setting out the ambition for a unique way for the industries to work together to improve the lives of millions of people with long-term conditions and/or social care needs through the integration of eHealth services into everyday practice.
In Cornwall for example, a trial is already underway with 1,000 patients that rely on telehealth monitors to transmit vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen levels to doctors. This trial generated a 15 percent reduction in A&E visits and a 45 percent reduction in mortality rates – as well as allowing patients to stay at home for longer.
A major benefit of these emerging technologies is that healthcare providers are better able to integrate patient outcome data with treatment and collect data to gain a complete view of patients’ care history. To ensure patients receive consistent care across a healthcare network, providers share this aggregated patient information across their healthcare ecosystem of patients, providers, clinicians, payers, and other participants.
Telemedicine is changing the way hospitals and research institutions work, creating opportunities to advance medical knowledge and ultimately improve the patient’s experience and access to healthcare. For example, in the Netherlands hospitals are using teleconferencing technology to improve access to medical experts and collaboration between medical centres. In the research field, the Canadian Brain Imaging Research Network (CBRAIN) has used a 100G network to give scientists access to 3D and 4D brain imaging and mapping data to conduct collaborative research about Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
However, all these services will only become a reality if underpinned by an intelligent and reliable network infrastructure that ensures a high-quality user experience. eHealth technologies are enabled by networks and therefore health trusts need a better infrastructure in place to benefit from an integrated approach.
Emerging eHealth applications normally require tremendous amounts of bandwidth if they are to be shared across a healthcare network. The file size of coronary CT scans, for example, average approximately 200 megabytes, while a single 3-D medical image takes up more than a gigabyte of space. Traditional networks simply cannot provide the capacity needed to deliver thousands of such files, often during a short window of time. Take as an example a surgeon performing a procedure using a High-Definition (HD) link – the doctor must be sure that the video images and associated data are perfectly clear and appear in real-time.
Current hospital networks are not suitable or robust enough for HD video delivery and compressing HD video is not an option because it degrades signal quality, putting patients’ lives at risk.
To ensure critical data availability, best practices recommend that healthcare networks should be able to support high-capacity applications with a minimum of 10Gigabits per second (10G) access speeds in most areas, and 40G/100G in data centre core networks. Latency – the time delay incurred when delivering the data - is also a critical requirement, in particular for telesurgery. The round-trip latency from the issuing of a robotic control signal to the resulting video displayed at the surgeon’s site is of great importance, as it essentially determines the safety of these critical procedures.
A delay in the robotic control signal causes delayed action of the surgical robot, which can potentially lead to catastrophic results. Video transmission from the patient site to the surgeon site is also crucial, as being able to see the result of a robotic control command on a patient determines the surgeon’s ability to make a decision on the next movement.
Telehealth has a pivotal role to play in delivering efficient and effective care to people of all ages across our country. If implemented properly, it could support cooperation between health providers and allow easier access to healthcare to patients across the country.
In order for eHealth applications to be integrated into a comprehensive system of care, a reliable and future-proof network needs to be in place to ensure patient data is delivered quickly and reliably – ultimately connecting patients to a better quality of life.