Ontario Telemedicine Network Extends Reach Into Patient's Homes

Using Vidyo technology, OTN will bring videoconferencing into homes and onto PCs rather than requiring patients to go to a facility with telepresence capabilities.
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As the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) implements new technology to create a tele-home health network that will extend the reach of its services into patient homes, OTN has announced that it will roll out technology from Vidyo this fall to change the way it delivers healthcare.

OTN, which has one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world, is used by more than 3,000 healthcare professionals in more than 1,175 sites across the Canadian province. The network uses videoconferencing systems and tele-diagnostic instruments like digital stethoscopes, otoscopes, and patient examination cameras to deliver clinical care and professional education among healthcare providers and patients. Last year, the network hosted nearly 135,000 patient events, which included 450 instances in which neurologists were linked to emergency rooms to diagnose stroke patients through its tele-stroke service.

Although OTN executives are pleased with the results of their telemedicine system, they felt the network could do more. For a start, the telemedicine infrastructure is implemented in hospital conference rooms, at emergency departments and in clinics where doctors and patients have to share these facilities and schedule conferences at these sites.

"The significance of the Vidyo/OTN launch is that it brings videoconferencing into homes and onto PCs when most current deployments require patients to go to an existing location set up with telepresence. If the solution is free or low-cost and easy to use it could have a real impact on access to health care," Irene Berlinsky, IDC analyst covering multiplay services, said in an interview.

OTN's expansion plans also considered extending its services in a much more affordable way.

"The hardware based systems work fantastically well, but the major challenge is they cost anywhere from $5,000 up to $25,000 to deploy a unit," Dr. Ed Brown, CEO of OTN told InformationWeek Healthcare. "What we are now seeing is a groundswell of new mobile devices. Everyone's got an iPad, a laptop and a smartphone and the Internet has improved in quality so we just have a great opportunity to disrupt the more expensive model and implement the more cost efficient and ubiquitous model."

To do this, OTN turned to Vidyo to build a portal using Vidyo's application programming interface (API) that integrates easily with OTN's existing state-of-the-art scheduling and telemedicine workflow software.

"The things that stood out for me were the fact that the Vidyo technology produced high quality video. They also had APIs that gave us the ability to integrate their system with our existing telemedicine software platform that we've developed over the years," Brown said. "That was important to us and finally the cost, it was quite reasonable, and a very nice price point at the end of the day. Our valuation committee looked at quality, integration ability, and price and Vidyo came out on top."

Through the Vidyo portal, doctors will be able to access the system from their office computers and OTN can expand its services to thousands of patients living in nursing homes or their private residence. These patients, especially those with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, or asthma, who may not always be able to visit a hospital for immediate care, will be able to use their PCs, laptops, iPads, or smartphones to click onto the OTN's network through the secure portal and conduct videoconferencing sessions with their physicians.

"Our software can run on mobile devices like Android and the iPad all the way to the laptops, desktops, and room systems with different form factors as well as on the recently announced VidyoPanorama that can support up to 20 screens--and all of them maintain the HD quality," Dr. Amnon Gavish, Vidyo's senior VP of Vertical Solutions, said in an interview.

OTN said it will install Vidyo's technology in September, and will use VidyoRouter, which delivers low latency high definition (HD) quality video conferencing over the Internet and 3G/4G wireless networks to PCs and mobile devices. The network will also deploy VidyoGateway, which links traditional systems with next-generation VidyoConferencing and extends HD-quality multipoint conferencing from room systems to desktops. The VidyoGateway connects H.323 and SIP videoconferencing endpoints and Multipoint Control Units (MCUs) from many vendors such as Polycom and Cisco that interoperate with Vidyo's Adaptive Video Layering Architecture and Vidyo endpoints.

Establishing interoperability with these vendors' technology enabled OTN to build upon its previous investments. These include Polycom telepresence systems, a Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) Network, implemented in large part with Cisco technology, Cisco Unified Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST), Cisco Collaborative Care, and Unified Contact Center Express to bring specialist care to patients from remote locations.

"Interoperability between videoconferencing systems is hugely important in healthcare. Videoconferencing for health is still relatively new, so a solution that's an island can be useful in the short run. However, as video becomes more and more integrated into care everyone needs to play nice with each other. Imagine a rural hospital unable to conference in a specialist in an emergency because he's using a different system," IDC's Berlinsky said.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)