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We Need More Broadband, Stat!

Kara Mullaley
(Image credit: Corning Optical Communications)

Telehealth technology has been adopted by nearly 50% of physicians’ offices, up from 18% in 2018. Large hospitals are trying to keep non-critical patients at home so as not to expose them to COVID-19 and small physicians are trying to keep their practices in business in the face of reduced revenues. The lack of broadband, however, in rural areas is prohibiting hospitals and clinics from servicing individuals that require medical attention.

The need for telehealth, which is the distribution of health services and information digitally through telecommunication technologies, has opened the floodgates for new policies allowing reimbursements. With safer at home orders partially in place, one-on-one phone or video conference calls used by healthcare professionals for prescription renewals, follow-ups and minor urgent care are now a necessity. 

Broadband Connectivity  

The pressure the coronavirus pandemic is putting on cable providers is unprecedented. When you combine unforeseen challenges brought on by COVID-19 with hefty goals put in place years prior for 5G and 10G deployments, operators are facing more severe capacity and bandwidth issues than ever before. In addition, the need to address improvements in network resilience becomes more critical.  

In response to connectivity limitations, lawmakers are looking for $2 billion to support programs around digital technologies and broadband deployment, especially in rural areas. In addition, experts predict that virtual care is unlikely to go away, even after the current crisis.

One of the primary challenges of deployment is profitability. Providers want to determine a profitable business model as well as a cost-effective service model to best meet the needs of their customers. Today, operators need to be more forward-thinking than ever by focusing on customer fulfillment, minimizing downtime, and controlling costs to remain on track with planned build outs and other upgrades that may be on their roadmap.

Minimizing Downtime

Downtime is an inconvenience to both consumers and providers and worse, it puts patients at risk. As a result of unplanned downtime, surgeries may be postponed, patients may be transported to other facilities for immediate care and switching over to paper records slows down service, especially when younger doctors are not accustomed to working with paper charts.

According to one estimate, unplanned system failures can cost $634 per physician per hour. Meanwhile, according to Dean Sittig, a professor with the School of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, a large hospital may lose as much as $1 million per hour when their Electronic Health Records (EHR) system is down — daunting numbers.

The costs of running an ever-expanding and overburdened healthcare network can only be met with continuous maintenance and upgrades to the network infrastructure. Hospital IT professionals looking to increase their network performance, patient experience and overall profitability often underestimate the importance of their cabling system. By implementing best practices and adopting resilient technologies, IT professionals can help optimize their system and minimize network downtime.

Controlling Costs

IT professionals can better manage their costs by assessing their environment, such as checking wired and wireless access and how they are transmitting data over their different networks, such as LAN, WiFi, cellular, telemetry, etc. Hospitals should also be investing in preventative technologies such as a backup data centers. When creating a complex, data-driven and collaborative ecosystem, IT staff must consider controlling the total cost of healthcare including hardware, public and private cloud infrastructures, and quality of service. This includes moving beyond legacy practices and mindsets and a willingness to embrace trends that will change the way infrastructure and operations teams run and the proficiencies they provide to their organization.

Americans aged 74 and over represent 73 million people in the United States. Many of these people are not computer-savvy, or open to virtual healthcare services, and some struggle with mental and/or physical limitations. Making services easily accessible to caregivers and family members of this aging population is vital and could prevent a life or death situation. 

Telehealth is a chance to meet consumer needs and lifestyles by servicing them at home, in the office or at other convenient locations that minimize disruptions to their daily lives. In addition, those well under retirement age want access to upcoming telehealth benefits, such as lactation support, home sleep study guidance, remote patient monitoring and so much more.

Telehealth is becoming the new normal. Adopting this new standard and technology is not about engaging the latest best practices in telemedicine, but rather about investing in the greater good of the community. Globally, government officials, physicians, patients, IT professionals, and other supporters in the community have been forced to face the unimaginable. With better tools in place and a critical network of industries, we can now all do our due diligence and put our best foot forward for a brighter, safer future. 

Kara Mullaley is community broadband market development manager at Corning Optical Communications.