Call it the butterfly effect of healthcare. Like the theory that a single, slight, action can trigger a chain reaction, each visit to a healthcare provider, in person or through a telehealth portal, may nudge healthcare AV further along.
With such a boom in healthcare AV, integrators need to make sure they provide top installations to help doctors diagnose patients properly. The healthcare AV market is nothing to sneeze at. According to a recent Mercom Capital Group report on funding and mergers and acquisitions activity, second quarter of 2015, venture capital funding, including private equity and corporate venture capital, in the health IT/digital health sector increased 53 percent QoQ (quarter on quarter), coming in at $1.2 billion in 138 deals compared to $784 million in 142 deals in Q1 2015, although it was down nearly 30 percent compared to the same quarter in 2014.
But before you jump in, be aware of the inherent challenges in all aspects of this market. “The first is without any doubt the highdefinition image quality requirements, said Franck Facon, marketing and communications director, Analog Way. “4K resolution in 4:4:4 (deep color) is the benchmark. The higher the image quality, the more quality information the physician has to consider, the more accurate a diagnosis can be.”
Today, imagery is a fundamental tool facilitating less aggressive surgeries. “If the picture is bad, the diagnosis could be false and the consequences could be huge for the patient,” he added. “Color and definition are the key points. The enhanced resolution of imagery will result in greater use of pictures for medical visualization, collaboration, and telemedicine. Displaying, streaming, and sharing all content is the gradual evolution toward medicine of the future. In time, the next step is advanced medical visualization systems in 3D.”
Keep in mind that there are two separate types of AV for the healthcare vertical: hospital AV and hospital public address, noted Steve Kawasaki, sales development director, western North America, Biamp Systems. “Hospital AV includes the audio/video needs for meeting rooms, classrooms, and conference centers that are typically the responsibility of the hospital IT department. These facilities’ needs are very close in the function and technology needed in corporate AV systems, and most integrators approach this type of healthcare AV in the same manner in which they pursue other corporate AV opportunities.”
Hospital public address most often falls under the responsibility of the hospital facilities staff (or the biomed department). “This is usually the same department that handles the nurse call system,” he explained. “While this department may not be part of the IT department, they are typically required to obtain approval from IT for any technologies that require network support.”
Integrators must spend the time to discover the differences in how a healthcare organization deploys and uses these two classes of systems. “Only then can an integrator deliver solutions that are flexible and scalable enough to address healthcare clients’ AV and public address needs as they evolve over time,” Kawasaki said.
A communication system for a medical application must include products that are relatively small, easy to operate, durable, and maintenance-free. “In many cases, the application calls for a hands-free wireless solution,” explained Michael Rucker, director of sales North and South America, Clear-Com. “This adds an entirely different set of issues to consider such as distance to be covered, number of users, how the products are to be used, the environment, and what frequencies are available. Distance covered could be a single floor, an entire building, across a medical campus, or even across the world. Users could be a small team of surgical specialist or an entire group of interns making morning rounds.”
Today’s communications could cover transport to the hospital, transition into a trauma center, and then on to patient recovery areas, Rucker added. “Some users need to activate a bi-directional communication device and not touch it until the end of their shift; others may just need to listen. Environmental concerns include covering several floors, moving between lead lined procedure rooms or into and out of pressurized hyperbaric chambers.”
Hospital AV includes the audio/video needs for meeting rooms, classrooms, and conference centers that are typically the responsibility of the hospital IT department.Success at Hand
The operating room is one area where integrators can provide medical facilities with the best in AV technology, Facon said. “There are also the auditoriums, medical training facilities, and visual medical record capabilities. The next step will be to provide a full environment of pictures and data inside the patient’s room.”
A doorway into various areas of medical facilities can be opened through providing dependable communication between doctor and technician, Rucker advised. “As modern medical technology advances, many new devices not only create radio signals, but are also sensitive to some RFI they come in contact with. This is becoming more of an issue each day; therefore, the ability to mix both wireless and hardwired products into a common hybrid system is an advantage when designing a system.”
It helps control RF emissions and reduces costs while offering the most adaptive solution. “For several years, simple wireless systems have been integrated into cath (catheterization) labs,” he said. “This freedom of movement allows technicians to position the equipment, help the patient, and assist the doctor.”
Rucker notes a recent Cedars Sinai Hospital project as an example of a large hybrid system installed to assist in the hospital’s annual surgical seminars. The installation required four operating studios located across multiple floors, a production control room, special conference rooms for consultations, and a large theater which hosts several hundred visiting physicians.
“Multiple days of surgery is witnessed live with full interaction between the medical staff, production crew, consultants, doctors, and guest speakers attending the seminars,” he said. “Multiple buildings are connected via IP to help accommodate overflow attendees. With recent advances in wireless and IP connectivity, it is now fairly easy to send bidirectional communications across the room or across the world.”
By focusing on network-based PA systems offering zoned paging and interoperability with other hospital communications systems, integrators have the unique ability to help hospitals create healing environments, Kawasaki noted. “While many hospitals are considering a move away from public address in an effort to reduce the amount of noise throughout a hospital campus, intelligently zoned PA systems deliver specific messages to specific audiences, such as staff, patients, and visitors, instead of broadcasting every message across the entire system. This enables a hospital to reduce noise clutter while maintaining the ability to deliver voice messages quickly and easily.”
Additionally, integrators can provide lasting value by offering paging systems that interface directly with other hospital staff communications systems such as nurse call and duress, enabling faster, more accurate communications. “Couple this with a system’s ability to provide both on-site and remote system supervision, and hospitals gain the confidence of a fully functional communications solution for any communication need that may arise,” he said. “This increases staff efficiency and certainty that they have the knowledge and tools available to care for their patients. All this is available with Biamp’s Vocia system, plus the decentralized network (meaning there’s no single point of system failure), and makes it very easy to retrofit into existing structures.”
Where’s the Target?
Niches worth exploring within the healthcare AV market include 4K/8K high-definition, video streaming, real-time medical visualization, and collaboration with innovative multi-viewers, Facon suggested. “In response to emerging trends in medical technology and telemedicine, integrators can offer solutions for remote medical applications utilizing cutting edge AV technology. By providing high quality visuals in 2D or 3D, integrators can improve quality, speed, and flexibility for medical diagnoses. The biggest hurdle to overcome is high investment cost for the hospitals.”
Focus on contributing to hospitals’ desire to create a healing environment, and bring innovative, especially network-based, systems to the table, Kawasaki advised. “The era of ‘all-call’ public address systems is rapidly coming to a close, and healthcare technology managers are hungry for new ideas.”
As the market itself continues to mature and technology becomes more engrained in daily life, the need and desire to integrate the multiple touch points into a single cohesive system has become increasingly important. “Streamlining historical review, real time consultation, and documentation of the visit helps increase both value and satisfaction while concurrently reducing cost and time associated with each visit,” said Jordan Owens, vice president of architecture, Pexip. “All of this is certainly possible with the tools available on the market today. However, the glue that brings commercial off-the-shelf systems together into that cohesive unit must be built and customized to the specific healthcare provider market.”
The majority of providers out in the market today understand the opportunity, but they remain limited in their ability to deliver based on existing biases, he added. “There are a number of ways this problem can be solved: organic growth to develop internal expertise, inorganic/acquisition of those more capable, development of partnerships to coordinate attack vectors, or any combination of the three. In short, advanced services have emerged as a robust market opportunity. Those organizations who can help solve these problems will find both short and long-term opportunity.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.
How Teleheath is Changing the Game
AV technology as a game changer really hits home, quite literally, when it comes to healthcare.
One of the largest inhibiting factors for many patients around the world is the physical transport from home to the health care provider, said Jordan Owens, vice president for architecture, Pexip. “Whether limited due to cost, convenience, or lacking travel capacity, many patients have missed out on care vital to long-term mental and physical health. The need for more convenient options is further supported by the macro push to reduce healthcare costs and increase patient touches without the need for in-person re-visits on the provider side in an effort to reinforce insurance funding. This leaves one main focus option: technology.”
Often referred to as telehealth, the use of collaborative technologies to support virtual communication has been on the rise in recent years. “Although primarily leveraged based on the desire to increase efficiency and reduce office and travel costs, video-focused collaboration has also increased patient satisfaction,” he added. “Now, individuals can meet with their caregivers more frequently, discuss newly evolving diagnoses, maintain existing conditions, and simply develop a greater connection.”
Owens cites the example of the Telstra Health recent launch of its MyCareManager portal, continuously connecting doctors and nurses with his or her patients. The portal is an all-in-one gateway that combines real time and historical data and remote monitoring with class-leading videoconferencing technology from Pexip that is focused on delivering the right data at the right time.
“This system brings the promise of connected care today; helping patients and doctors to work together to benefit long-term health,” he said. “It’s no surprise that both private and public healthcare organizations are looking to telehealth as a way to increase their care and reach more consumers. Whether in support of the returning warfighter for both physical and mental care, diagnosing new stroke victims who may be isolated in various parts of the country, or simply ‘checking in’ to validate a patient’s rehabilitation progress after major surgery, doctors and patients can provide the personal touch that has been lacking since the days of the in-home visit.”
The telehealth market is unlike any others for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the personal nature supported by real time interactions, he concluded. “Most organizational approaches to enabling collaboration solutions have been focused on internal and B2B use; telehealth, on the other hand, is primarily focused on connecting to the consumer in a very personal way. The biggest opportunity for the market is also its biggest challenge: how to efficiently enable this personal level of communication in a secure manner without compromising the quality of such an interaction. “