By Mark Dzuban
An aging population, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, rising healthcare costs, and rapid technological advances are fueling the growth of telehealth and telemedicine. Recently, COVID-19 demonstrated healthcare’s adaptability and proved that with enough motivation most Americans are willing to embrace remote care.
Due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic, right now we are relying on ad-hoc approaches to see us through including Zoom meetings not intended for conversations protected by HIPAA. Long-term solutions require not only investments in healthcare applications, but also in more reliable, secure networks like 10G, cable’s next-gen broadband platform that promises speeds up to 10 times faster than today’s networks. This means that the cable telecommunications and healthcare industries must work together to reach the full potential of connected health.
But first there’s a perception that we must overcome – namely, many people still see cable as synonymous with entertainment. In truth, cable plays a significant role in the critical infrastructure that individuals and businesses rely on for connectivity every day. In fact, there are more than 66 million U.S. cable broadband customers alone. Given the essential nature of cable infrastructure and the promise of 10G for enabling new and expanded healthcare applications, building a strong relationship between the telecommunications industry and healthcare now will benefit patient care well into the future.
The Value of Collaboration
First, let’s consider the value of remote care when the world is not suffering from a pandemic. Connectivity often means people living in rural areas, or other areas without access to specialist care services, are able to consult with healthcare providers without needing to travel long distances. Likewise, people living with chronic conditions that require regular monitoring of their vital statistics, like heart rate and blood pressure, are able to send updates to their care team without needing to physically visit a physician. And, individuals who are homebound do not need to subject themselves to potentially unsafe scenarios; this is especially beneficial for people recovering from the effects of stroke, heart attack or a serious car crash. The scenarios in which patients could benefit from remote care are nearly endless.
For healthcare providers, shorter waiting times in a clinic due to fewer patients having to physically visit the site increases their capacity to serve more patients or spend more time with patients in need of serious care. Patients can also be released from a hospital earlier, freeing up beds for other patients. By increasing the ability to monitor a patient’s condition, physicians are able to provide better quality care and tailor their care to the patient’s needs. Greater connectivity between healthcare providers could also lead to cost-savings; for example, a hospital could rely on the services of specialists from different hospital systems using telemedicine, without having to employ specialists at its own facility.
The cable industry’s broadband networks play an important role in innovations coming to the world of healthcare and telemedicine. Cable’s emerging 10G platform is poised to offer the low latency, high reliability, and security necessary to support such solutions as remote dialysis and the capacity for clinicians to detect signs of stroke or jaundice via high-resolution video. Additional connected apps and services – including smart medicines, wearables, artificial intelligence, remote exams and an array of IoT sensors – aim to improve and extend quality-of-life using broadband and other technologies.
Further, advanced networks will also enable application developers to stop designing products for the lowest common denominator. Developers can use network identification so that applications present themselves based on the capabilities of the network they’re relying on, thus optimizing the customer experience and creating the sort of stickiness that drives profit goals.
In short, enhanced connectivity leads to patient and provider empowerment, which results in more patient-centric care and improves patient satisfaction. In a world where the customer’s voice is increasingly important, this is a requirement for a successful healthcare business.
Charting a Path Forward
The truth is, several cable telecommunications providers have already expanded their commercial services to include healthcare. Mobile health software solutions, for example, already enable patients to measure blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels, glucose levels, and weight from home and automatically transmit the data through a secure connection for analysis and intervention by the patient’s clinician.
As it stands right now these partnerships are between individual companies, but a new initiative from SCTE•ISBE aims to give cable telecommunications and healthcare experts a neutral avenue to develop industry-wide standards and share best practices on a wider scale. The Explorer initiative is an expansion of the SCTE·ISBE Standards program, the only ANSI-accredited platform for developing technical standards supporting cable broadband networks. IBM was the first company from outside of cable to join its ranks.
There are at least 40 organizations that already exist to create healthcare IT standards, but SCTE•ISBE’s Explorer groups are unique because of their tie to cable, which serves more than 97% of U.S. households, and their focus on the network required to operate and reach consumers. Partnering with cable gives healthcare developers unrivaled access to consumers and market penetration.
Likewise, cable’s reliability is already second-to-none. Cable has been an unsung hero throughout the pandemic. According to the NCTA, cable networks have performed well even as downstream and upstream peak traffic reached 20.1% and 35.1% growth respectively.
Cable networks will soon be the foundation for highly-secure applications that can change — and save — lives. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) states that telemedicine services may involve the exchange of protected health information (PHI) over the internet, but in order to satisfy HIPAA concerns, healthcare providers and telemedicine companies must adhere to relevant portions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the Security Rule.
A truly secure connection – like the one offered by cable’s 10G platform – is paramount. Standards developed on 10G can, and will, ensure the secure flow of clinical information from electronic health records to benefit patient documentation, clinical research studies, safety reporting, and other use cases.
Joining the Cause
Connecting healthcare professionals and patients is only the beginning. In the years to come, cable’s game-changing role will be to weave together artificial intelligence, autonomous transport, smart city services and IoT innovations to reduce the burden on overtaxed health systems.
The cable industry is ready to double down on its efforts to partner across industries and drive new applications that leverage advanced connectivity, and we hope to see a similar enthusiasm for partnership from healthcare. For healthcare leaders, participating in the Explorer initiative means a seat at the table as standards that will transform the industry are being developed.
In the meantime, Cable-Tec Expo®, the largest cable telecommunications and technology trade show in the Americas, will be completely free and 100% online for the first time in the show’s history this October. I’m personally looking forward to sessions dedicated to the intersection of healthcare and cable.
Mark Dzuban is president and CEO of SCTE•ISBE, a professional membership organization for cable telecommunications and allied industries that is leading the acceleration and deployment of technology. SCTE•ISBE’s Explorer initiative is developing cross-industry standards for telehealth and aging in place, telemedicine, and more. Learn more at scte.org/explorer.