SmartAdvice: Voice-Data Convergence Will Benefit Health Care - InformationWeek
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SmartAdvice: Voice-Data Convergence Will Benefit Health Care

Greater broadband reach into under-served areas and an increase in consumer self-service will make health care more efficient in the coming years, The Advisory Council says. Also, choosing a value-added reseller is almost as hard as choosing a software package -- and perhaps as important.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to

Question A: How will new Internet technology trends affect health care?

Our advice: The Internet is more than ready for its potential to be tapped by the health-care industry. The key lies in three phrases: any time, any place, and any media. In other words, consumers are increasingly demanding access and service at any time, from any place, and they are going to be using a variety of media for access. From a technology perspective, two major innovations will drive the ability for health-care providers to deliver new Internet initiatives. The first, the widespread convergence of data and voice telecom technologies, will improve consumer self-service and anytime/anyplace service delivery; while the second, patient information integration, will benefit health-care delivery by improving efficiency.

From a purely network-technology perspective, the greatest development activity is in the wireless networks and voice/data telecom convergence areas. While wireless wide-area network technologies such as IEEE standards 802.16 and 802.20 are still in their infancy, they're both being developed to enable viable high-speed wireless WANs and global Internet coverage. Their reduced capital investment requirements will enable broadband Internet service to rural and other traditionally underserved areas. On the cutting edge of technological innovation, 802.20 is being developed to deliver network access to highly mobile locations -- think speeding ambulances -- that could potentially offer lifesaving access to critical patient information.

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Another trend that will have a major impact on health-care delivery is the continued widespread adoption of broadband access at the consumer level. This will translate into increasing initial contacts and diagnosis via the Internet, instead of live or office visits, and more self-service patient initiatives. Despite the hype, the populations who have the most need for health-care services -- the elderly, the disabled, and the very young -- are just the populations that have the least access to new technologies. To address this, there has been some development of kiosk systems, medical smart cards, RFID, and other methods of simplifying health-care delivery to these vulnerable populations. The tradeoffs are concerns with security and ease of use.

Before any of these new technologies can be widely adopted, the industry must finally solve the privacy and confidentiality issues related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other regulatory requirements. Fortunately, there has been much work recently in developing better-integrated security standards that address this issue directly. The emerging Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Network standards give application vendors unprecedented fine-grained control of application and data access. Innovations in single sign-on, biometric security, and network identity management are making it easier for applications to be made both secure and simple to use; essentials in an industry that has traditionally been technology-phobic.

The good news is with the increased penetration of broadband technology into the consumer market, the health-care industry will be able to take advantage of the power of the Internet to deliver better quality care, more efficiently.

--Beth Cohen

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