Telepresence Reshaping Healthcare, NAB Conference 2011

By Stan Baldwin
Updated: April 15, 2011

Telepresence Reshaping Healthcare, NAB Conference 2011

The 85th edition of the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference in Las Vegas this week (April 11th- 14th) included several presentations discussing the technology and application of telepresence systems. The application of communications technology in healthcare is a particularly timely topic. During his presentation “The Opportunity for Telepresence to Reshape Healthcare”, Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare, explained how his organization is putting videoconferencing tool to work to increase the number of patients an attending physician can support while also improving the patient experience and medical outcome.

“It was obvious more than fifteen years ago, before we started the Center for Connected Health, that we needed a new care model.” Dr. Kvadar noted. Medicine involves a tremendous amount of information and the frequent need to quickly communicate specific information to a hospital, a laboratory or a bedside. Though telephone conversations and transmitted still-images have served for many remote medical situations, the Center for Connected Health has shown treatment is improved when a patient’s entire situation is understood, not just their signs and symptoms.

The children receiving treatment in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) of Massachusetts General Hospital often require continuous 24 hour monitoring and care. Each patient has an attending physician responsible for the entire scope of assessment and treatment, supported by a staff of Fellows, Specialists and Nurses. A new program, Connected Pediatric Critical Care, applies real-time video communications technology to the challenge of bringing all the appropriate staff together as needed, when needed.

The equipment employed uses Tandberg (now a division of Cisco) and Polycom H.323 devices at the physician’s homes to connect to the hospital resources. A specially configured “portable telemedicine station”, based on Cisco TelePresence Intern MPX hardware, is brought to the bedside. Special cameras and various scopes can be connected to transmit HD images of eyes, ears, nose and throat. Video of vital sign monitors gives a physician a live view of a patient’s present situation. Breath or heart sounds from a stethoscope provide the remote medical expert important information.

Polycom’s system, based on Microsoft Unified Communications and Office Communications, offers a range of capabilities for patient assessment, diagnostic and treatment consultation, as well as staff education and training. Claricode, specialists in medical software, were brought in to develop the needed custom applications, also based on the Microsoft platform.

Dr. Kvedar says the possibilities ahead for medical telepresence are exciting. Besides enabling medical professionals to see more patients and access more information, lower cost and easy to use video systems can guide patients to take on more self care. Self Care can be a cost effective alternative to address preventative, recuperative or chronic conditions.

New lower cost capabilities in mobility, such as Tandberg’s “Movi”, will expand the application possibilities for patient care. Developments in other areas, such as voice print assessment for the detection of depression or facial recognition for assessment of emotional states, are all future capabilities Dr. Kvedar and the Center for Connected Health look forward to applying one day soon.

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