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Fast Internet connections "could improve health care"

2010-03-23 09:01 BJT

BEIJING, March 22 (Xinhuanet) -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published a national broadband plan containing a 25-page chapter on health care, and calls upon the Department of Health and Human Services to make so-called e-care projects a "top priority."

In a move to bring about 100-megabit Internet connections to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020 the FCC wants to make remote medicine a reality.

The FCC wants so see the creation of a health care broadband infrastructure fund to make sure all health care facilities, including rural ones, have adequate connectivity. At the very least, clinics, hospitals and even doctors offices should be encouraged to put health records into a secure database that can be accessed by patients and their authorized care givers, wherever they happen to be located, the report says.

Video-consultation and the ease of passing medical documents over long distances over secure servers could help save lives, the FCC report suggests. In addition, video consultation and other "telehealth" techniques can save money by giving facilities remote access to world-class specialists without having them on their payroll.

The broadband plan said avoiding the costs of moving patients from correctional facilities and nursing homes to emergency departments and physician offices could result in annual savings of 1.2 billion U.S. dollars.

Simply by switching all providers to electronic health systems with on-screen reminders to prompt physicians to prescribe influenza and pneumonia vaccinations could save up to 39,000 lives annually, according to a study cited in the FCC's report.

National adoption of electronic health records could save more lives by alerting physicians and patients of dangerous drug allergies and drug interactions when the doctor is entering the prescription. According to one study, this alone could result in a net savings of as much as 371 billion dollars for hospitals and 142 billion dollars for physicians over the next 15 years.

But to achieve these plans the United States has some catching up to do. According to the FCC, the U.S. "ranks in the bottom half (out of 11 countries) on every metric used to measure adoption, including use of electronic medical records (10th), electronic prescribing (10th), electronic clinical note entry (10th), electronic ordering of laboratory tests (eighth), electronic alerts/prompts about potential drug dose/interaction problems (eighth) and electronic access to patient test results (seventh)."

There are also some exciting possibilities in mobile health delivery via laptops, smartphones and other portable devices.

Not only do portable devices enable physicians to access laboratory results, images and drug data from wherever they happen to be, they also can allow patients to monitor vital signs such as glucose levels, blood pressure and other data, and to transmit that data to physicians, caregivers or clinics.