Telemedicine: Problems of Implementation
by Gwendolyn Jones
Telemedicine supports the access and delivery of health. It provides clinical information to patients. Telemedicine benefits small hospitals, rural/remote physicians and medical specialists.
Advanced telecommunications infrastructure is necessary for telemedicine and this is lacking with numerous health care providers. Also, communications services bandwidths in many rural areas are too low for adequate transmission of information. Lower bandwidths could result in inconsistent, unstable, or disconnected images that could lead to false diagnosis and possible improper treatment. Thus, the higher bandwidth is mandatory in emergency situations and essential for consistent medical imagery.
Currently, the technology providers do not have the incentive to standardize equipment because profits would decline. It is crucial that the health care providers initiate discussions with the technology providers to develop universal service support equipment. Moreover, adopting standards and sharing equipment will decrease costs to health care providers and create a larger network of users of the technology, creating a larger client base for the equipment providers.
The initial set-up costs can be quite high especially if the system lacks an advanced telecommunications infrastructure. The high costs tend to limit rural areas= access to telemedicine. The high costs can be reduced by: (1) sharing of standardized equipment; (2) receiving government subsidies, and; (3) encouraging state utility regulatory commissions to impose a fee reduction for users.
Government subsidies have been the force behind health care providers access to telemedicine. The continued use of government subsidies will ensure telemedicine=s implementation and survival in rural communities; however the grants will eventually expire. In addition, the FCC could recommend that state utilities reduce the cost to telemedicine users; this could greatly offset the costs to areas who would otherwise be prohibited from access.
Although there are many barriers to the implementation of telemedicine, there presently are systems to accommodate for those barriers and possible alternatives for incorporating telemedicine into more rural and poor communities. Once the current government grants expires, there must be other funding mechanisms in place to ensure that the programs continue. Accessing other government funds is one alternative. Therefore, telemedicine should overcome the barriers and branch into other rural and poor communities.