Telehealth a ‘cool’ discipline for IT pros

Telehealth — connecting health care professionals together through broadband using video-conferencing, voice technology and data — is a “cool” field for IT workers and there’s plenty of demand, according to Ed Brown, the CEO of the Ottawa-based Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), a telehealth IT service provider.

The OTN has more than 70 IT people working with Internet protocol video, applications, gatekeepers, multiple control units, internal administration and external user support. They also monitor privacy and security used within the OTN. Typically, they go to a hospital or health-care practice and set up network applications and ensure there is connectivity through an existing router and monitors, according to Brown.

“I think it’s kind of a cool field for IT folks,” Brown said. “IT folks can make a difference in people’s lives; there’s lots of demand right now.”

The IT professionals set up video-conferencing and Webcasting capabilities for patients and medical professionals to use on their own monitors and software, according to Brown. IT workers schedule conferences between medical staff and patients using OTN software. Users can also go to the OTN Web site and virtually connect for video-conferencing.

“Our job is to make sure it all works,” Brown said.

The OTN’s IT staff service urban and rural areas in northern and southern Ontario, Brown said.

Telehealth is useful for people in rural areas— if a specialist can’t reach the area, they can videoconference with a local doctor and instruct them how to treat a patient, according to Brown. Patients do not have to leave their homes to commute to a specialist, and therefore do not have to take time off work.

The OTN is working on enabling the same service on tablets and smart phones, according to Brown.

IT professionals set-up broadband infrastructure, Internet-enabled medical devices, mobile and land-line phone services as well as video technology, according to Frances Dare, the director of global health care practice at Cisco Systems.

While 96 per cent of health care providers said telehealth is necessary, only nine per cent said they use it regularly; Telehealth is an area for IT development by health care providers, according to a survey by the San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc.

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