News

01st August 2011

More collaboration needed between industry and clinicians if UK is to realise the benefits of telemedicine, experts claim

More collaboration needed between industry and clinicians if UK is to realise the benefits of telemedicine, experts claim. 

Members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) are today calling for a more collective approach between technologists and clinicians to ensure faster deployment of innovative telemedicine solutions.

The comments come after the announcement, last month, of a new project led by the Centre of Rural Health, which aims to implement transnational telemedicine solutions at scale.

However, according to the IEEE, much greater collaboration is needed if the benefits of this plan are to be fully realised in the UK.

“We need to make it easier for the healthcare providers to embrace and apply these technologies in diverse medical environments”

Dr Yongmin Kim, IEEE fellow and a professor of bioengineering and electrical engineering at the University of Washington, said: “From faster wireless networks to mobile imaging applications and biosensors, the technologies for delivering telemedicine services are certainly there, but advancing telemedicine through technology innovation alone is not enough. We now need to make it easier for the healthcare providers to embrace and apply these technologies in diverse medical environments.”

Telemedicine uses information and communication technologies to assess, diagnose and monitor patients who may be miles away from a doctor or consultant, for example living in rural areas where access is poor. So far in the UK, though, only a handful of small projects have been developed, with a perceived lack of evidence of the effectiveness of the approach regularly blamed for the failure to invest more readily.

“We need to translate technical criteria into the clinical domain to make it easier for healthcare providers to relate to it”
To address the problem with take-up, Dr Yadin David, IEEE senior member and founder of the Centre for Telehealth and e-Health Law in Washington, USA, recommends healthcare providers across the UK join with industry leaders to agree standards for minimum system performance of telemedicine networks and platforms and to create a common vocabulary to describe the technologies.

He told HES: “Healthcare providers can look at the technical description of a heart pump or X-ray machine and understand whether it will meet their requirements in delivering quality care to a patient. But how easily can radiologists, for example, understand whether the pixel resolution or compression rate of their video equipment will enable them to clearly see fine detail on images for more accurate diagnoses? We need to translate technical criteria into the clinical domain to make it easier for healthcare providers to relate to it.”

Dr Yuan-Ting Zhang, founding director of the Division of Biomedical Engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, who recently chaired the 2012 Biomedical and Health Informatics conference, added: “While the technical innovation for telemedicine focuses on the acquisition, transmission, processing, storage, and retrieval of biomedical and health information, boosting its deployment requires an interdisciplinary approach, not only to examine its clinical efficiency and safety, cost-effectiveness and the effects of telemedicine on quality and accessibility of care, but also to develop relevant telemedicine policies, standards, and business models.”

“Boosting its deployment requires an interdisciplinary approach, not only to examine its clinical efficiency and safety, cost-effectiveness and the effects of telemedicine on quality and accessibility of care, but also to develop relevant telemedicine policies, standards, and business models”

The IEEE is now working to draw up some recognised standards for telemedicine deployment and will hold a joint medical technology conference with the American Medical Association in October, where the issue will be further addressed.

Dinesh Bindiganavale, IEEE member and an independent healthcare consultant, said that, according to BCC Research, the value of the global telemedicine market is expected to grow to £14billion by 2015, but a more joined-up approach would be needed to realise this potential. He added: “Our experts expect a number of technologies to play strategic roles in advancing the adoption of telemedicine, including smartphones, wearable sensors and instrumentations. For example, smartphones combined with high-speed mobile networks may be used to non-invasively monitor health conditions, such as the blood glucose levels of diabetic patients. Further advancements in bio-sensors, such as longer-lasting and more reliable electrocardiogram sensors that remotely monitor a patient’s risk of having heart attack, will also significantly improve the quality of, and access to, healthcare with minimal cost.

“These innovations could be particularly beneficial in rural areas, which have always had the benefit of more specialised healthcare. Telemedicine is extending this benefit to the rural population and increasing access to quality healthcare where it is needed the most.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE BARRIERS TO THE WIDESPREAD DEPLOYMENT OF TELEMEDICINE TECHNOLOGIES? POST YOUR COMMENT BELOW