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Let's Meet Onscreen

March 28, 2010
by Daphne Lawrence
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The use of video is expanding beyond rural areas

Many believe that telehealth solutions are going to be an essential component of healthcare reform. Indeed, Congress has earmarked billions of dollars under ARRA (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) to develop a broadband infrastructure to support telehealth. Though solutions using the technology, such as Netherlands-based Philips Visicu e-ICUs, already have a solid foothold, many say the influx of dollars will also mean using video for more clinical care services, including specialty consults. Leveraging the technology means hospitals can also save on travel time and expenses for meetings - and boost education for clinical users.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

In addition to the push from Washington, insurers have become more involved, also contributing to growth in the market segment. In 2009, for example, the United Healthcare Group (East Minnetonka, Minn.) partnered with San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems to build a national telehealth network for 5,000 hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Though the six-year pilot program was first targeted at the underserved in rural and urban areas, future possibilities include high-definition video for remote screenings, illness evaluations, and information-rich content for both patients and clinicians.

“I think there will be further developments when desktop video becomes more important in healthcare.”

Improvements on the way “I think the grants for rural networks for telemedicine are really important and have contributed quite significantly in increasing the usage of video consolations in the U.S.,” says Jonathan Edwards, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. That's going to continue, he adds, but he believes the benefits can go way beyond. “I think there will be further developments when desktop video becomes more important in healthcare.” He says that technology is still in its infancy in the U.S., but cites a network in Germany for where we are headed: That health network of 100 hospitals deploying desktop videoconferencing to all its PCs and physicians to enable consultations and three-way calls with the patient. “What's holding video conferencing back now is the need to book a facility, and the room is usually badly lit,” he says. “So the emergence of desktop video will be really important.” To reach this goal, when it's time for a desktop refresh, CIOs should consider the option of purchasing monitors that are video-capable, he says.

One hospital on the cutting edge of videoconferencing is Manhasset, N.Y.-based North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System, a 15-hospital, geographically dispersed hospital system.

Like many other organizations, North Shore-LIJ's physicians attend lectures on the latest developments in medicine, as well as participate in multidisciplinary events like tumor boards. Getting physicians from geographically diverse locations together at the same time for these events was often problematic. In response, North Shore-LIJ implemented a video conferencing solution from Polycom (Pleasanton, Calif.) in its conference rooms and in the main auditoriums where lectures are held. The system allows doctors to meet face-to-face for lectures and without having to spend their time traveling. Video conferencing has become an accepted form of collaboration within the health system.

To complement the Polycom video conferencing systems, North Shore LIJ also uses a streaming video solution from Accordent (El Segundo, Calif.) that archives live video conferences and allows doctors to view them when they choose. The system also enables healthcare professionals to take tests and earn certification on what they saw.

Another early adopter is Boston-based MassGeneral Hospital for Children, which is using video technology in its PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). Six PICU physicians now have videoconferencing units in their homes, enabled by a portable telemedicine station positioned at the patient's bedside, and can consult in the middle of the night or on weekends. The real-time video communication enables the on-call attending physician to examine the patient from home and communicate directly with the PICU staff, other specialists and the child's parents.

Expect so see more movement in this space: In February, Oslo, Norway-based Tandberg, a well-established videoconferencing company, was purchased by Cisco to further expand its tele-presence. According to a press release on acquisition, Cisco plans to create an open architecture that provides greater interoperability with Tandberg and third-party systems, as well as integration with EMRs.

While the gold standard for a patient experience has always been a face-to-face encounter with a physician, that goal may be redefined with media-rich technology. And as the use of video continues to expand, many say the face of healthcare will be changed for the better by increasing the number of lectures physicians are able to attend, as well as the number of doctors from various disciplines able to provide expert opinions on cases.

“Video is rapidly becoming more mature with price reductions and interoperability,” says Edwards. “If hospitals can implement video in such a way as to reduce internal costs for staff travel and improve communication between physicians, that's an opportunity to use video in a targeted way to reduce costs and to enhance patient care.”


  • Leveraging video technology used for telemedicine means hospitals can save on travel time and expenses for meetings.

  • Video can be used to boost education for clinical users.

  • CIOs should consider video-capapble monitors when doing a refresh.