Our population of eight billion and growing doesn’t have enough medical personnel (doctors, nurses, physicians) to keep everyone healthy. This is not only valid for underdeveloped countries, but also applies for developed countries, albeit, not as acute. Since biologically cloning medical staff won’t be a viable solution any time soon, the question comes down to whether or not the tech industry can equip healthcare with tools that can heighten the impact and effectiveness medical experts can provide.
The late Steve Jobs famously pointed out that humankind has the unique ability to build “tools” that can amplify our impact. The bicycle for example, moved humankind to the most efficient living being in terms of moving from point A to point B.
What are then the tools that can create similar amplification effects that can help fill the gap between needed medical experts and the number of available medical experts? Information technology has a big role to play answering that question.
Medical imaging-related technologies, cloud services, and advancements in connectivity (wired and wireless internet) have created a unique opportunity where doctors can virtually be “teleported” from location-to-location to examine patients and their medical data as well as compare notes with fellow experts, all without requiring patients or colleagues to be in the same room.
Today’s internet connection technologies are capable of delivering the necessary data and communications wherever it’s needed. As an example, patients can go to mobile clinics that may not be physically equipped with doctors but have access to technologies that enable doctors in nearby cities to visit bedside.
In other words, a hospital doctor or specialists can virtually interact with and diagnose patients, by making use of video conferencing. They can get access to medical images remotely, tap into other expertise and essentially help the patient who otherwise would not have access to first-rate medical talent.
As in any sector, the demands of the applications and use cases are ahead of the available technologies that support those applications. For example, internet connectivity might be available; however, reliable video conferencing (while simultaneously transferring large medical images) may still not widely be available especially in developing countries.
Put differently, the cloud services, medical imaging services, and real-time communication tools demand better performance and higher reliability than today’s internet connectivity technologies can support. Therefore, we need to pay attention to tools that can potentially bridge that gap. Technologies such as broadband bonding, WAN virtualization, and WAN optimization are capable of doing just that for communication over internet, medical imaging applications, and any other cloud-based services.
Consider a remote portable clinic that can go to patients in rural areas and remain for an extended period of time. Clearly, such portable clinics can’t all be attended by doctors. However, if medical technicians in those remote clinics are equipped with medical imaging and remote communication technologies, they can virtually bring the patient and all the related medical data to the doctor who may be in a centralized hospital, who could simultaneously work at the remote clinic. Such projects are underway in various parts of the globe and are promising to fill the digital divide and therefore make medical expertise more accessible to patients in remote parts of the world.
Broadband bonding is one such technology that can combine existing wired or wireless internet connections to create a fast and reliable internet connection that can carry the medical imaging data as well as video conferencing-type communication data. Without broadband bonding, access to cloud-based applications, accessing and uploading medical imaging files, or having a high-fidelity video conference between the patient and doctor would not be possible.
Information technology experts are finding ways to leverage newer communication and cloud technologies that can be applied for their specific use cases in the healthcare industry. The tools we are creating today are capable of multiplying the impact of medical experts will have on keeping all of us healthier. Maybe we can’t biologically clone a medical expert yet; however, we can virtually clone his/her presence and therefore bring more doctors to patients.
Cahit Jay Akin, PhD, is the co-founder and CEO of Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, that provides broadband products and solutions for a range of internet applications.