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4/11/2011
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Telehealth Rated Top Medical Innovation

Global health leaders say that information and communications technologies hold the greatest hope for improving patient diagnosis and treatment.

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Telehealth and related technologies that enable collaboration and information-sharing among healthcare professionals have the greatest near-term potential for improving large-scale health sector innovation, according to a survey of global health leaders.

The survey, which was commissioned by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, relied on interviews with more than 100 senior leaders from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, India, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States.

The poll found that, while many enabling technologies exist today, more integrated health solutions are needed that will improve collaboration to support more efficient diagnosis, treatment, and care management.

The results, which were released Wednesday at the World Health Congress in Washington, D.C., also showed that technologies that combine data exchange with people-to-people interactions help enable easy, efficient, professional practices.

Survey respondents voiced strong support for telehealth, but noted a considerable gap between perceived potential and current practices. "Ninety-six percent of respondents see the value of telehealth approaches for health-sector innovation," said Frances Dare, director of the global healthcare practice at Cisco Internet business solutions group.

The findings further showed that only 9% said sharing electronic data and images is "very common" today, while a mere 4% said professional collaboration via information and communications technology (ICT) is currently "very common."

"This is the opportunity," for telehealth workers, according to Dare. "Throughout the survey the global leaders voiced their support for new approaches enabled by telehealth. We see telehealth as a promising market and our findings indicate that telehealth is more than just patient and clinician connection."

The top three technology approaches rated as having a high potential to transform healthcare in the near-term were:

-- Collaborating via ICT to diagnose and treat patients, supported by 65% of respondents;

-- Electronically sharing or accessing diagnostic images, video, or patient biometric data, also endorsed by 65%; and

-- Providing clinical training and references via ICT, noted by 64% of respondents.

"The breakaway finding we see is a re-definition of a phrase we hear often, "health information exchange," Dare said. "The first dimension--data and data exchange--is addressed with the significant investment in electronic health records and data exchange we've seen in many countries, including the U.S. The survey tells us that equal investment in collaboration solutions is needed."

Among the key concerns and challenges that health leaders expressed during the poll was the uneven distribution of health professionals, with 35% rating it their greatest challenge. The insufficient numbers of health professionals was the next greatest concern, with 20% rating it their greatest challenge.

Considering their greatest overarching concerns, the global leaders prioritized access, efficiency, and quality above "providing health services our country can afford." Only 10% of the respondents rated affordability as their uppermost concern.

"The important takeaway is this: Additional investment in telehealth approaches can uniquely address the leaders' top priority issues of equitable access to care, the greatest efficiency from the healthcare workforce, and best quality care," Dare said.

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