Ontario’s fast-growing telemedicine network is getting help from its neighbors to the south.
Next month, the Ontario Telemedicine Network, which links roughly 3,000 healthcare professionals at 1,200 hospitals and medical clinics throughout the Canadian province with 2,200 videoconferencing stations, will make it possible for physicians and other caregivers to participate from their PCs. The go-live, involving 50 health professionals, will use software provided by Vidyo, based in Hackensack, N.J.
The goal, officials say, is to link healthcare providers and remote patients through their own computers.
"This is a way to get it out there in a lot more places, to make it simpler for them and to enable them to do this wherever they are and not have to trek out to a studio or organize a (telemedicine) room," said Ed Brown, chief operating officer of the five-year-old network, during a recent interview with IT World.
“Thousands of healthcare professionals use OTN to deliver care across the province,” Brown added. “Most of our current endpoints are hosted on a private network, but in order to expand our program into patients’ homes and the broader community, we needed a video conferencing solution that operates securely over the Internet, so that it can be accessed via laptops and desktop computers by both healthcare providers and tele-homecare patients. We need a solution that is cost-effective, scalable and boasts high video quality, among other things. But we also need a solution that is highly interoperable so that it can work with our existing, older systems.”
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Considered one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world, with roughly 135,000 patient encounters and 11,000 webcasts logged each year and a reach that extends to hospitals and universities as well as the remote First Nation tribes in the northwestern part of the province, the OTN is growing at roughly 25 percent per year, according to Brown, with close to 300 sites ready to be included in the network. He said the OTN wants to expand beyond its video-conferencing capabilities to include more remote monitoring, enabling physicians to communicate with patients in their home, check vital signs through remote devices and conference with other specialists.
"Clearly the virtual healthcare system is growing, and we think it's going to be every bit as important as face-to-face healthcare," Brown told IT World, "though there's an enormous way to go to make this fully mainstream."
While the network currently uses technology from Cisco and Polycom, officials added Vidyo a few months ago as a means of leveraging the Internet. Once the 50 physicians are linked into the system in early September, Brown said, the network will look to expand to add thousands more. Vidyo’s technology will be configured to run alongside the OTN’s existing system through what is called Adaptive Video Layering.