22nd July 2003 Cambridge UK: Wireless Healthcare is warning health providers and ehealth vendors not to expect too much from the current generation of mobile videophones. This comes a week after research, published by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, revealed that remote consulting costs the NHS almost £100 per session more than conventional face to face appointments.
Peter Kruger, who spent 12 years in the medical imaging industry before becoming a senior analyst with Wireless Healthcare, believes there are parallels between the early days of PC image processing and today’s market for video conferencing based ehealth. “Twenty years ago one of the easiest ways to draw a crowd at an exhibition was to display a video image on a PC screen.” Explains Kruger, adding. “It took several years, and a lot of software development, before we saw PC based image processing used in practical applications such as, cancer screening, cell counting and x-ray analysis.”
Advanced medical imaging applications, such as the transmission of x-ray films and remote diagnosis of skin disease, rely heavily on high-resolution displays and broadband connections. Wireless Healthcare believes it will be some time before the display quality of mobile equipment and the bandwidth of mobile networks can reliably support these applications.
Kruger points out that the ability to see a video image of the patient is only one small part of an ehealth solution. “The real benefit of mobile ehealth will only be realised when virtual consultations are supported by data gathered automatically from thermometers, pacemakers, blood pressure monitors and other network enabled medical equipment.”
Wireless Healthcare are concerned that intensive promotion of picture phones will encourage interest in applications which current handset and network technology cannot support. They also believe that other features of mobile networks that could add value to ehealth applications, such as the transmission of data via SMS and the ‘always on’ functionality of GPRS and 3G, may be overlooked.
An ehealth system which already exploits ‘always on’ functionality has been developed by Roke Manor Research of the UK. Roke have built a GPRS based system that remotely monitors patients who are prone to septic episodes following chemotherapy. A patient monitored in this way can be released from hospital earlier than usual and, as the application is run over a mobile network, is able to leave their house and lead relatively normal life.
Wireless Healthcare feel there will be a number of roles for mobile video in ehealth – such as ensuring sensors are correctly located during remote patient monitoring. However collecting data will prove significantly more cost effective in the short term. As Kruger points out “In many applications information could be processed automatically and would not require the presence of a GP or clinician at the end of the phone until adverse data had been detected.”
Wireless Healthcare (www.wirelesshealthcare.co.uk) is a UK based consultancy specialising in ehealth and telemedicine. A recent report by Wireless Healthcare ‘Healthware – Wearable Computers In Healthcare.’ is available for £49 + vat. (Press copies available on request.)
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