A connected, healthier healthcare system: the evolution of the internet of things in healthcare
From virtual doctor visits to wearable medical devices that track your health, modern internet connectivity has made managing our healthcare more accessible, informative, and empowering. Telehealth services and home monitoring equipment promote preventative care and early intervention. Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing diagnostics and treatment plans. And electronic record-keeping safeguards patient data to uphold the highest medical ethics standards.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way healthcare is delivered and consumed. After an initial surge that increased telemedicine use nearly 80 times over pre-Covid levels, usage stabilized at about half the peak. Behind these numbers are the technological advancements and business practices that provide the infrastructure and capacity to respond to the healthcare crisis with new services. Internet connectivity and robust networks, coupled with leading-edge applications and devices, are at the core of our new healthcare reality.
The evolution of online healthcare
The internet has reshaped how we view healthcare, putting knowledge and access at our fingertips. Published, accessible content about medical conditions, treatments, and medications empowers patients to understand their situation better and helps providers explain and treat illnesses and symptoms. The nature of this content has evolved in the 21st century. Credible sources provide valuable guidance intended to supplement, not replace, medical advice from healthcare professionals. The application side of healthcare is seeing significant breakthroughs. Providers and innovators develop new ways to deliver healthcare services fueled by fiber internet’s speed, reliability, and secure connections. These changes focus on increasing healthcare access and efficiency, ultimately improving patient outcomes.
Telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably to describe the delivery of remote clinical healthcare services, at-home patient monitoring, and other healthcare information and services. Telehealth can work under a synchronous care model (where there’s live interaction between patients and healthcare providers) or asynchronously (where patients and providers interact with stored information instead of each other).
Telehealth has extensive applications for managing acute and chronic medical conditions. It reduces the need for routine face-to-face visits and is essential in early assessment and intervention. Research indicates positive outcomes, particularly in chronic disease management. These encouraging results reduce strain on urgent care facilities and emergency rooms and signal a shift in how care is delivered as it moves from office visits to virtual health consultations.
Before the pandemic, telehealth usage was constrained by connectivity limitations, as well as regulatory and reimbursement challenges. The crisis prompted swift action to address these challenges, leading to a rapid and widespread expansion of usage. Telehealth is on track to become a permanent and integral part of the American healthcare system. A recent McKinsey & Co. study shows 76% of patients intend to use telemedicine in the future. Patients and healthcare providers generally express satisfaction with telemedicine on critical measures. These measures include improved medical outcomes, convenience, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use.
Those who provide telemedicine services can easily meet the technical requirements. Patients or providers can use any computer or smart device with a webcam and microphone. While videoconferencing apps like Zoom are frequently used, several other applications are designed specifically for telemedicine. These HIPAA-compliant applications come equipped with provider-side tools that integrate with other medical systems. Typical features include:
- HIPAA-compliant video platform
- Scheduling and appointment reminders
- Virtual waiting room
- File sharing
- Secure messaging
The minimum internet connection speed for synchronous telemedicine with video is 15 Mbps. Fiber internet for healthcare facilities provides speeds up to 940 Mbps for better performance and reduced lag or latency. Gigabit connections can also handle multiple, simultaneous telemedicine sessions without interrupting other internet-based activities in a medical office, hospital, or home office.
Benefits of at-home patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) falls under the telehealth umbrella. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) comprises dozens of connected medical devices. These devices include digital scales, blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters, and blood glucose monitors. There are also products for specific conditions, such as smart wheelchairs, specialized monitors, and smart pills.
IoMT devices transmit data to providers caring for patients with acute or chronic conditions. These devices allow doctors to extend in-office procedures beyond geographical boundaries and can dramatically increase the amount of information available to track a patient’s condition. RPM is well-suited for patients managing high blood pressure, heart conditions, COPD, diabetes, weight loss, asthma, and pregnancy complications.
RPM devices generally connect via Bluetooth or WiFi . While data consumption for RPM is low, a reliable and secure connection is critical for patients and providers. Quantum Fiber 360 WiFi blankets an installation site with uniform coverage so patients with wearable or portable RPM devices can move freely around their homes without interrupting data transmission.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in healthcare
Remote patient monitoring devices generate incredible amounts of data that providers can use to adjust treatments and identify and predict problems. There’s considerable investment in building artificial intelligence for medical applications since it’s suitable for analyzing large data sets. AI also has broad applications in medical research—like predicting clinical trial outcomes or treatment side effects—and in clinical environments where it can review imaging studies and other tests for early detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
AI heavily depends on processing speed and consumes an increasingly large share of bandwidth. If your practice or facility uses AI-intensive healthcare applications, consider the impact on your network to protect against slowdowns caused by insufficient bandwidth.
Electronic medical and health records
An electronic medical record (EMR) is digital medical documentation maintained by a provider for a patient. Electronic health records (EHRs) might include EMRs from multiple providers and provide a more comprehensive view of a patient’s history and treatments. Enterprise-level EHR systems like Epic, Health Catalyst, Oracle, and Athenahealth are cloud-based. They store data, images, multimedia content, and other large files that users must be able to upload quickly for instant accessibility.
EHRs consume significant bandwidth for uploads and downloads, which can be impacted by the number of users and type of data moving across the network. Data collected by IoMT devices further taxes availability, as do applications like scheduling and billing systems, phone systems, and telemedicine archives that can be integrated into an EHR. A reliable connection is critical because EHRs update in real time and are accessed continuously. Quantum Fiber provides 99.9% reliability based on network uptime and availability to provide uninterrupted access to your EHR and other mission-critical applications. According to the FCC, the minimum bandwidth necessary to support an EHR system for a single provider practice is 4 Mbps. However, most organizations using EHR systems need much more, and large practices, hospitals, and academic facilities require gigabit speeds. You must consider the number of users, locations, and transactions or uploads and downloads when calculating the optimal bandwidth for your EHR.
Security and privacy
Healthcare providers, payors, service providers and other groups are known as “covered entities” and must comply with the privacy rules defined in HIPAA. These rules, designed to shield protected health information (PHI) from intentional or unintentional disclosure, drive a long list of policies and procedures directly related to how data is stored, accessed, and shared.
On the network and application side, all proprietary and third-party applications must be HIPAA compliant. Rigorous standards for handling PHI in telemedicine determine who can access electronic PHI and how it gets transmitted and monitored. Developers, application service providers, and cloud service providers are all covered entities under HIPAA, but internet service providers (ISPs) like Quantum Fiber aren’t. Instead, ISPs get categorized as “conduits” that pass information but don’t access it. Whether they’re covered entities or not, network and medical office WiFi security concerns are a top priority for most providers. Fiber internet is generally considered secure and hard to hack because of how data is transmitted. Quantum Fiber 360 WiFi includes enhanced features to secure your network and control access.
The patient experience
A patient’s overall experience is another critical element when determining the need for fast internet in healthcare facilities. From an easily accessible guest network to efficient smart device-enabled appointment check-ins, internet service and WiFi availability shape the patient experience as soon as they arrive at their provider’s office.
Give your practice an internet checkup
Broadband connections were once sufficient when only back-office processes required connectivity. Today, the internet powers the availability of healthcare in remote locations and is deeply integrated into patient care. A reliable, secure connection that can handle a modern medical practice’s upstream and downstream traffic has never been more critical. Ensure that your network is ready by taking the following steps:
- Run a speed test on your current internet service. Pay attention to your upload speed, especially if you experience lag with your EHR.
- Monitor uptime by installing a browser extension or application that runs in the background.
- Optimize your WiFi Network and security settings.
- Consider the impact of adding new services, applications, or technology that consumes bandwidth.
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