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Past, Present and Future of Telehealth & Telemaintenance

Posted by Chris Richie on Aug 10, 2015 9:00:00 AM

In telemaintenance, telehealth

I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.” To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.

Those words were written in the March 10, 1876 entry of Alexander Graham Bell’s journal, (now in the Library of Congress) after successfully making a telephone call from one room to another from his laboratory at 109 Court Street on that spring day in Boston.     

Bell could have cribbed[1] any number of poetic passages to utter that day, etching them in the annals of history. Instead, he called in a simple, straight-forward, utilitarian request through the new communication medium, heralding the great power of that wired electronic technology: efficiency.        

Enterprise Mobility

Fast forward to the present era of enterprise mobility. Like its name suggests, telehealth is healthcare-related services and information sent via telecommunications. According to our friends at Wikipedia: Telehealth could be as simple as two health professionals discussing a case over the telephone or as sophisticated as doing robotic surgery between facilities at different ends of the globe.

Reducing hospitalizations and readmissions, improving clinical outcomes, and decreasing healthcare costs are all big battles being waged by the healthcare industry, and technologies like telehealth are integral to winning them. Take a look at Arizona-based Banner Health. They’ve recently released findings from their at-home telehealth pilot program with Philips for patients with multiple chronic conditions. An analysis of the results of each patient's first six months demonstrated that the program reduced costs of care by 27 percent, reduced acute and long term care costs by 32 percent, and reduced hospitalizations by 45 percent.


Then there’s telemaintenance. Like its name suggests, telemaintenance is maintenance via telecommunications; known also as remote maintenance. Unlike the telehealth, telemaintenance is industry agnostic. Think about it, any business with machines can benefit from it. But for healthcare it represents the other side of the efficiency coin with regards to telecommunications. Telehealth is streamlining patient care, while telemaintenance is streamlining equipment care—the very same equipment being used to provide that patient care—thus both contribute to the goals of improving patient care and reducing healthcare costs.

Troubleshooting via telephone is about as old as Graham Bell himself; what’s new is the advent of mobile and the subsequent ubiquity of video telephony. Clinicians are utilizing Internet searches, for treating, diagnosing and caring for patients, and engineers are using video on their phones for telemaintenance. While BYOD and consumer apps are helping get the job done, now is the time for enterprise telehealth and enterprise telemaintenance to really step up to the plate.

We live in a world of data—big and small; its use through enterprise applications is becoming integral to healthcare and every other industry you can think of. The difference between performing telemaintenance through a consumer versus enterprise application is the closed loop—where application data is collected and analyzed across myriad other processes, leaving nothing undocumented, while also being HIPAA compliant. If you have a high cost piece of equipment, a linear accelerator (LINAC) that’s down for instance, with enterprise telemaintenance you put in a service request and are automatically linked to the appropriate expert. That call is automatically logged and, utilizing mobile video, the expert can start remotely troubleshooting the equipment.

The value proposition of enterprise telemaintenance can’t be ignored. It provides a powerful solution for equipment downtime reduction, cuts down on travel for maintenance, and offers a centralized knowledge base for maintenance service requests. This is what will transform the power of telecommunications light-years beyond Bell’s wildest dreams. Or perhaps he saw it coming.

"The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking.”

That’s an older Bell being prophetic and wise some years later; about a century away from the technology we know and use today. To think of all the new frontiers to be realized moving forward through telecommunications, a technology now almost 150 years old. But here we are in the 21st Century, still utilizing the database of human interaction, still calling out requests to Mr. Watson.


Learn more about Telemaintenance  

[1] As it is with many great technological innovations, success is often a footrace to the patent office on a road littered with highwaymen. A search for “inventor of the telephone” will yield you names like Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci, among other brilliant individuals.