November 2009

Health Care Telecom Opportunities

Health Care and Telecom: The Perfect Marriage

By: Kelly Fitzpatrick

There is an ideal convergence brewing for telecom companies that can capitalize on an overhaul in the way we manage and deal with health care currently.

Health Care Telecom Trends

There are two trends taking a strong hold, the growing need for health care telecom and IT use to be more efficient and an aging population’s need and desire to use remote health care telecom monitoring systems to promote better care for the chronically ill in their own homes. While often moving separately, those two trends converge to create a booming demand for health care telecom and network that streamlines the expansive U.S. health care system: hospitals and clinics, doctors and other health care professionals, insurance payers including the federal government, and patients as well as their caregivers. Health care telecom and IT seem like a perfect fit.

And because of this, service providers like AT&T, Cox Communications, Qwest Communications and Verizon are all getting in on the health care telecom game. Over the summer Qwest announced two major health care telecom contracts. One included a statewide network for the Colorado Hospital Association and Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council “that links 400 urban and rural medical facilities across the state.”

According to Steven Summer, chief executive of The Colorado Health and Hospital Association, the move was designed “to bring a new level of care to medical facilities serving rural and indigent populations in a cost-effective way.” He went on to say that “By linking these facilities [through health care telecom systems] to better staffed urban hospitals, and even by linking urban hospitals with different specialties, the Colorado Telehealth Network is designed to enable remote diagnostics via a fiber-optic network operating at speeds up to 100 megabits per second. It is also intended to enable remote, in-home monitoring of chronically ill patients, and more cost-effective sharing of specialized resources.”

The other contract involved Houston-based HealthHelp, a radiology benefits management company that is using Qwest for its call center and disaster recovery/business continuity. Both of these deals came after Qwest was seeking out vertical market solutions targeting health care telecom solutions as a major one.

Cox has also been noted for its work with Sentara Healthcare on its Mednet application, “a private IP-based network designed to be securely accessed by not only Sentara’s member physicians and facilities but also other health-care providers in the area, to establish a single electronic medical record (EMR) system for patients.” This health care telecom and networking system is set up to streamline communications between different locations or divisions of a health care facility.

Mike Braham, regional vice president of Cox, says, “We consider the health care industry to be a very important part of our customer base. Today, the health care industry represents 10 percent of our 250,000 business customers. But we also see tremendous opportunity as we look forward to future requirements of the boomer nation. We expect to use the full complement of voice, data and video services in the home.” He also says, “In addition, there are efforts underway to create a standard approach to delivering in-home remote monitoring that ties in wireless networks and new wireless devices, enabling more continuous monitoring that is currently available and freeing the patient from older in-home technology.” Health care telecom and IT opportunities continue to pop-up everywhere.

Factors of Health Care Telecom Opportunities

The Baby Boomer population is a major key to this health care telecom marriage. In a recent report, the U.S. Census Bureau expects (by the year 2030) the number of people over age 65 to double to 72.5 million people from 35.7 million in 1995.

“At the same time, the U.S. is facing a potential shortage of doctors, expected to reach 159,000 primary care physicians by the year 2025, according to The Association of American Medical Colleges. And nowhere is that shortage more acutely felt than in rural areas, where the lack of primary care physicians and specialists has reached crisis proportions, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.”

The new measures are helping make sure there are more efficient and cost-effective methods to deal with the influx of retirees in the country, so it’s an ideal time for telecom companies to look for opportunities within this new health care telecom world.

Last May, Black Box announced it was rewarded a health care telecom and data infrastructure services and technology product agreement from Premier Purchasing, LP., the group purchasing unit of Premier, Inc. The health care telecom agreement has Black Box Network Services providing voice communications, data infrastructure and technology products to the Premier health care alliance and its members. Premiere health care alliance has more than 2,100 U.S. hospitals and 58,000 health care sites, working with centers for Medicare, Medicaid and the United Kingdom’s Health Service North West.

“By providing comprehensive communications and infrastructure solutions to Premier health care alliance members through the new agreement, Black Box can help hospitals and other health care sites reduce operating and procurement costs and improve services,” said Terry Blakemore, president and CEO of Black Box in an article in “Cabling Installation & Maintenance.”

Because of this new health care telecom avenue and the opportunity for new service revenue, telecom service providers are restructuring their sales approaches – even creating new organizations focused on solutions for health care telecom operations. The blog “CAT-iq” posted in September that Verizon Business created a health care telecom division Verizon Connected Health Care Solutions to “focus its attention on how existing and new network functions can better serve the health care industry.”

“There is widespread acknowledgment whether you’re talking about providers or payers or other players within the health care ecosystem that the industry is not nearly as efficient as it could be,” said Barry Zipp, director of Verizon Connected Health Care Solutions. “A lot of other industries, whether it’s financial services or retail, have invested very heavily over the past couple of decades in information technology. The health care telecom industry, particularly within the provider space, has really lagged in that area. I think there is widespread recognition now that they are going to have to invest heavily to catch up. And when I say invest, I mean in ways to automate the flow of information and standardize the storage and transmission and viewing of information with the overall aim of helping the interoperability within the system improve.”

According to Telephony Online, that is why government administration has attempted to improve health care telecom and IT along with the creation of digital health records one of its earliest initiatives.

Even across the pond there are health care telecom opportunities, AlcatelLucent announced in September that they were brought on to overhaul the health care telecom services and place communications at North Bristol NHS (National Health Service) Trust as part of its strategy for effective patient care.

“Communication is vital to health care organizations – from crash call access to first point of patient contact, staff must communicate effectively and rapidly regardless of their location, which had previously been a challenge for a trust of our size,” said Martin Bell, director of information management and technology at North Bristol NHS Trust. “The new [health care telecom] solution will allow us to provide mobile and responsive communications, both internally and to the community at large. Equally, as the Trust extends and we prepare for the opening of the new super hospital, this future-proof, robust platform will support our growth and enable the continued evolution of our patient services.”

Between the influx of money into updating health care telecom and the Baby Boomers reaching retirement, this health care telecom arena is a new business model that offers countless opportunities for telecom service providers right now.