Heralding hyperconnectivity in health care

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Technological advances and medical breakthroughs have always been the lifeblood of the health-care industry, transforming everything from patient care to daily business operations. As early adopters of digital technology, health professionals instinctively recognize the power of immediate and pervasive access to information – particularly in critical care, where the speed and reliability of information are paramount to patient outcomes.

Hyperconnectivity is a term within the communications technology world that describes a growing reality where anything that can be connected to the network will be connected. It’s a reality that encompasses person-to-person, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. This explosive growth of network demand is giving rise to more powerful networks that are integrated with powerful new applications that support business operations.

In a hyperconnected world, medical personnel will have reliable, secure and uninterrupted flow of critical information and alerts from patient monitors and a host of other medical appliances, including immediate access to patient information and drug interactivity at the point of care. Some studies predict such access could dramatically reduce errors associated with drug administration by as much as 85 per cent. Medical personnel will be able to make house calls – without leaving the office.

Today, about two billion handheld devices worldwide are connected to global positioning satellites (GPS). Virtually every car manufactured today can be GPS-equipped. In the next three to five years, there will be billions- if not tens of billions – more machine-centric devices connected to the network and talking to each other. One can confidently predict a time when there will be an “OnStar” for people. While shopping or skiing with the grandkids, retirees will expect to be able to tap a button and ask: “Doc, how’s my blood pressure doing?”

More likely, they won’t even have to ask. A new type of wireless technology, called “4G” is emerging that will totally redefine the concept of mobility and wireless connectivity. 4G will enable the widespread introduction of tiny sensors to transmit information, transforming virtually any object into a communications device with capability to report its location and status.

This new and powerful 4G wireless technology will likely rewrite the protocols for emergency care. Consider a scenario in which a child has been critically injured in a car accident. Emergency medical teams (EMTs) arrive, check the victim’s vitals and begin to administer treatment, often speaking with ER staff via phone or radio for guidance. Upon arrival at the emergency room (ER), precious time is spent connecting the patient to the necessary equipment for advanced diagnostics.

In a hyperconnected environment, this scenario plays out differently. EMTs place wireless monitors on the patient’s body at the scene of the accident. These monitors immediately begin communicating with the ER, transmitting accurate and real-time vitals. Triage is conducted en route to the ER. Upon arrival, remedial medical action begins immediately, greatly improving the chances of survival and recovery. Variations on this type of application are being tested today.

With digital broadband technologies and 4G wireless capabilities, virtually any amount of information can be reliably sent to any location in real time.

Other examples of Hyperconnectivity in the health-care industry can be seen in the increasing distribution of medical imaging: radiology, cardiology, pathology. Imaging is being tied into secure hospital central information management systems and patient records, and made available throughout the care community. The immediate benefits include improved resource utilization, faster time to diagnosis, reduced costs from duplicated tests and access to quality care for remote patients.

And hospitals are now relying on communications technology to track and deploy available assets – from medical devices, wheel chairs, IVs and beds to doctors. Through the use of sensors, tracking and inventory is automatic, immediate and always up-to-date – whether the assets are in the next office, or two continents down.

Hyperconnectivity will impact the ongoing development of new and veteran medical professionals. Through “tele-mentoring,” skilled doctors can share learning and expertise with far larger groups of students. The scope of the medical campus becomes the scope of the medical network – without the artificial barriers of brick and mortar. High-definition video conferencing will allow a surgeon in training in Northern Quebec to watch an operation at the Montreal Heart Institute.

The promises of Hyperconnectivity are profound – and the pace of realization is rapid. To tap into this power requires strategic planning and collaborating with the right experts to identify needs, develop integrated solutions that deliver results, and that remove complexity for the users. The outcome will be an improved quality of life both for the industry and its patients.