Medicine Gone Wireless
By Kate Shuman, Staff Writer

The future of telemedicine in America is rapidly improving through the advancements of mobile and wireless technology. Some popular telemedicine innovations include: interactive self-assessment tools; education Web sites; monitors that send readings right into patient medical records; and devices that let X-rays and other medical images be viewed from anywhere, nationally as well as internationally.

The medical world has embraced the age of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) with great enthusiasm because it not only provides greater quality-of-care for patients and their families, but it also offers a better and quicker way for information and education to continually reach out to healthcare professionals no matter their location.

In the not-too-distant-now, a typical hospital visit will not only feature the usual patient registration through a laptop computer, but will also include the use of a handheld PDA (personal digital assistant) or a WLAN (Wireless Location-Area Network) by a nurse or hospital administrator who will be able to use it to double-check or complete a patient’s history and physical at their bedside or while in the waiting room. While in the hospital, a patient will then be connected to wireless sensors that will monitor   body functions through the hospital’s computerized network. The data collected can be accessed by doctors who are at the same hospital, at another hospital or clinic, or at home. The doctor(s) can then respond through their own PDA and order the necessary tests and X-rays, or investigate drug types and interactions, and then e-prescribe the proper medications, all without having to physically leave their home or office. X-rays can be sent via wireless transmission to the radiology department and viewed from a computer screen. In the surgical suites, every item is bar-coded and scanned upon use, helping to keep accurate and precise inventory of all surgical instruments, with new items being immediately ordered to replace what has just been used. Upon discharge from the hospital, patients can expect to be followed at home with the use of wireless sensors and monitors that will transmit data back to the hospital.  

Telemedicine helps to improve the quality of a doctor’s professional work, along with improving their efficiency in handling the usual, endless paper trail associated with the demands of hospital administration and insurance companies. Other benefits of wireless medicine include:

  •  Healthcare that’s faster and safer. The information available over wireless networks for the doctor on-call can help them make better-informed decisions when paged by a patient or by a family caregiver, or when handling referrals from other healthcare workers like nurses or home healthcare aides.

  • Improved billing practices. Everything done for the patient is immediately recorded and captured by a hospital or office computer network upon entry by the attending healthcare professionals. The risk of fraudulent billing also decreases, and billing departments are able to electronically submit charges directly to insurance companies, speeding up the entire process. A decrease in medical errors will help create increases in cost-saving.

  •  A decrease in the amount of “down” or “wait” time for healthcare professionals and patients. PDAs that have a Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) feature enables people to make telephone calls using a computer network, over a data network like the Internet. VoIP converts the voice signal from a telephone into a digital signal that travels over the internet, and then converts it back at the other end so that a person can speak to anyone with a regular phone number. This type of technology will reduce the amount of “wait” time between a nurse-to-physician or physician-to-physician communication from 20 minutes to only one minute.

  • Doctors are able to obtain quicker answers to questions by accessing medical information from multiple locations using their PDAs. They can also obtain drug information and submit prescriptions electronically to pharmacies for fulfillment.

  • Healthcare professionals can perform dictation and record-keeping tasks away from the office by using their PDAs.

  • Utilizing wireless cellular networks and a range of client devices, EMTs can transmit patient data to hospitals while en route in ambulances.

  • ER doctors can view patient information on an electronic white board delivered straight from back-end systems to their PDAs over wireless networks.

  • Through wireless networks, hospital staff can manage operating room schedules and access new patient information.

  • Healthcare workers in the field can access a full-range of patient and medical information using mobile client devices.

  • Participants in clinical trials can access protocols, drug data, checklists, and patient diaries from various locations via their mobile handheld devices.

While handheld devices are the present and future of medicine, it is actually the software being created and implemented which will ultimately provide the answers needed for the continued improvement and accuracy of healthcare. PDAs and WLANs are extending past the individual doctor and going out into communities across the country where mobile professionals will work collaboratively, transacting and referring important medical data back and forth amongst themselves. Computerized hardware and software have become the connective tissues linking technology to modern medicine, creating a medical revolution the likes of which haven’t been seen since such rapid advancements were made during World Wars I and II.  Other areas of medicine, such as business and administrative applications, are also improving because of technology with creations like Electronic Medical Records (EMR), Clinical and Drug References, Patient Management Systems (PMS), Patient Scheduling Systems, and e-Prescription writers. It is the hope of patient and practitioner alike that the revolutionary advancements will continue to give the medical professional the luxury of more time … more time to diagnose, more time to get to know the patient, more time to accurately treat people, and more time to practice the best medicine possible.

 

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