PHOTO BY TOMML/GETTY IMAGES, COURTESY OF COMCAST BUSINESS
Cable connects with health care to meet communication needs As usage of digital and electronic information continues to expand, some health care systems and hospitals are turning to cable companies or at least looking at the industry as a resource to meet a range of patient care and telecommunications applications.
A report by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics in 2013 found that many hospitals, clinics and physician offices lack the information technology (IT) infrastructure necessary to support their goals for patient care.
Demands on IT systems continue to grow as health care organization systems digitize medical records, launch telehealth systems and remote monitoring, utilize electronic image transfer and expand patient room video systems for education and entertainment.
The cable industry is positioning itself to capture health care's rapidly expanding communications needs with its robust infrastructure for dedicated Internet access and high-capacity managed Ethernet networks and more, says Todd Esenwein, director of business services, Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM), National Harbor, Md.
CTAM is the cable industry trade association and commissioned the HIMSS survey. Among the conclusions drawn from the data: The health care industry can't keep up with its own growing demands. While 41 percent of survey respondents said they consider the ability to exchange information with outside organizations to be a strategic priority, 21 percent said they aren't able to support those communications with their existing telecommunications capabilities.
Many health care organizations are finding that their networks are not equipped to handle the heavy bandwidth demands of today's integrated health care delivery system, says Alexandra Sewell, executive director of emerging markets, Comcast Business, Philadelphia. The demand will expand as telehealth and other mobile health services grow.
"Health care organizations are realizing the important role that a high-capacity, high-performance network plays in supporting mission-critical health care IT applications such as electronic health records and picture archiving communication system imaging," Sewell says.
"With this realization, the health care industry is taking note that the network foundation for an effective health care IT delivery chain can be provided by their technology providers," she says.
While data on the number of hospitals' or health care systems' utilizing cable for communication services do not exist, successful partnerships have formed. A few examples:
• Charter Communications, St. Louis, worked with OCHIN, a nonprofit health care innovation center, to complete an 82-mile fiber network running from Grants Pass, Ore., to Crescent City, Calif. The broadband pipeline allows medical technicians to send magnetic resonance imaging scans from Oregon to Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City in approximately two seconds.
• Time Warner Cable Business Class, New York City, helped OhioHealth System, Columbus, to establish the OhioHealth Stroke Network, a telemedicine system that connects emergency teams at community hospitals in central Ohio to critical care and stroke specialists in Columbus.
"Time Warner Cable Business Class has been a very responsive, cost-effective, reliable solution," says Jim Lowder, vice president, IT integration technology, OhioHealth.
• Grady Health System, Atlanta, worked with Comcast Business to consolidate and modernize its digital health care services, which previously were provided by multiple vendors and had slow connectivity.
Comcast installed high-speed fiber connections to 17 different facilities within Grady's network, which enables sharing digital health records and high-resolution radiology files with clinicians and patients in remote sites. Grady is looking at working with Comcast Business to provide educational content accessible on TVs in patient rooms and waiting areas.
Jeff Ferenc is senior editor at Health Facilities Management.