With how quickly telehealth is evolving, strong infrastructure investment is needed for success.
- There are several factors that make a telehealth solution successful. One of the most important, can also be the most fickle - infrastructure. This is the combined set of hardware, software networks, and more that is needed to develop, test, deliver, monitor, control and support IT services.
For telehealth, like many modern IT systems, the investment in infrastructure can be never ending. With how quickly the healthcare landscape is evolving and the number of new devices hitting the market, systems that were considered frontrunners a few years ago, now need upgrades to remain effective. These upgrades can also be required to meet regulatory changes, and with 56 telehealth bills pending in congress as of September 2014.
A recent article from the Federal Times examined the challenges that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) have run into when it comes to telehealth. The VA has been a pioneer of the telehealth industry since 2011 when it launched the Specialty Care Access Network-Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (SCAN-ECHO).
The system was created to provide specialty care services to veterans in rural and medically underserved areas by using video-conferencing equipment. Telemedicine sessions are managed through one of 11 different facilities focusing on chronic pain, hepatitis C and heart failure.
A system like this was needed, because 55 percent of veterans who require medical treatments live in rural areas. It has been successful so far. In fiscal year 2014, 690,000 veterans were provided a telemedicine service and an additional 10,589 veterans used tele-audiology services.
Despite this, there is still room for improvements, especially when it comes to infrastructure.
"What is needed is more expansive, open Internet access in rural areas. That is the major limiting factor for a lot of telehealth and telemedicine [initiatives] in rural locations," Tim Hays, senior director for customer health solutions with Creative Computing Solutions, Inc., said in the article. "At least for rural health, that is going to be a big infrastructure problem that might not get resolved soon. But it is fundamental to increase telehealth work to those who need it in rural locations and that is a majority of our veterans."
These systems are likely to be upgraded, as the Defense Department is strongly in favor of telehealth solutions.It has been deployed by the military in active combat zones since 1992.
There is no question that telehealth solutions are gaining popularity. By 2018, 7 million patients worldwide are expected to use telehealth and projected revenue is expected to be $4.5 billion.