During 2010, healthcare costs in the U.S. were estimated to be about 16 percent of the country’s $14.8 trillion GDP, more than double what healthcare as a percentage of GDP was in 1970.
What to do about the cost of healthcare is a hot-button issue in politics, but integrators can be sure of one thing: The answer is inevitably going to have to rely to a significant extent on A/V systems technology for solutions.
Already, HD video conferencing systems are being used for doctor-patient consultations, for remote diagnosis, for medical training and other applications. Digital signage is being used to link local and regional medical centers, as are data server/storage systems that can maintain voluminous amounts of patient data and still be compliant with the mandates of the HIPAA Act to assure patient confidentiality and data security.
New configurations of healthcare delivery, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), that seek to improve the quality of care while simultaneously reducing costs through coordination and collaboration among providers will rely heavily on these kinds of technologies for successful implementation.
According to the American Hospital Association, the costs associated with developing these capabilities, including A/V and IT systems, range from $5.3 to $12 million per facility and are expected to increase.
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John Laughlin, president of Conference Technologies, says that changes in medical practices are also driving A/V in those spaces.
“We see a trend that with the aid of nurse practitioners, doctors have more of an opportunity to assist in multiple locations utilizing audio-visual technology,” he says. “High-definition video conferencing along with increased data feedback options from medical equipment are giving medical professionals an entirely new set of tools to use. This allows doctors real-time feedback with very sharp and clear images that standard definition never allowed. Many times it’s referred to as the spoke and hub: one doctor supports, for instance, five offices, with nurse practitioners located in every office.”
Rich Mullen, a CTS at Vistacom, is the de facto health care systems specialist at an integrator that specializes in medical systems environments. “Our first inroads into the healthcare industry began 20 years ago with basic nurse call systems,” Mullen recalls. “But in the 1990s we saw many healthcare institutions migrating quickly to remote diagnostics and telemedicine, specifically with orthopedic and neurological departments.
“The hot trend now is in early stroke detection using remote diagnostics. A lot of hospitals are trying to implement as much remote diagnostics as possible. The problem is, though, they’re looking at the end nodes on the system rather than starting with the network, the information infrastructure to handle all these asset management and data transmissions. That’s where we saw our opportunity to really create custom solutions around medical systems clients.”
Mullen cites Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., as an example of a hospital that figured out that it had to put the network horse before the cart - literally, as the hospital prepared to deploy wireless Computer On Wheels (COW) carts that bring diagnosis and treatment options to the bedside.