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  • Bob Knight

Guest Blog: Win With Telehealth; Launch a Pilot Project

By definition and by default, you cannot have telehealth without highspeed Internet. By design and by default, you cannot have a gig community network without continually pushing the innovative edge.

Telehealth and community broadband define the essence of symbiotic relationships.

There is telehealth that is practiced within and between healthcare facilities, often impacting healthcare functions such as improving radiology speed and efficiency. And telehealth targeted to individuals, with an emphasis on apps such as home healthcare. These latter can be more popular with subscribers and ultimately generate more revenue for the network.

Some media and politicians tend to suffer from myopia when they focus on the lack of rural broadband and telehealth, yet don’t realize there are expanses of urban areas that are underserved. Is it important to emphasize that both broadband and telemedicine deployments face challenges as well as opportunities within the rural AND urban communities that each technology hopes to improve.

Organizations often run pilot tests to determine if a technology works as advertised, that end users are comfortable with the technology, and how well the product will adapt to the organizations needs. A community can verify the intended benefits by providing feedback on different types of telehealth apps and services.

A pilot can assist the broadband network’s owners. “If you determine that the north side of town has a heavy senior population, for example, and you can recruit venders of telehealth monitoring services for these subscribers,” says Isak Finer, Chief Marketing Officer at COS System. “Or the east side has a population with a tendency for diabetes, so you can recruit appropriate venders for this part of town.”

Creating an effective pilot test

Telehealth pilot tests may require a lean pilot team that consists of a representative of the local government, a co-op’s or public utility’s management team, several healthcare professionals, a member of the community, and a telehealth consultant. If there’s going to an “unconventional” organization such as a school or a library as part of telehealth delivery system, they should be part of the team too.

The types of telehealth apps and services determine the parameters of the pilot test. For Community broadband owners – municipalities, co-ops, wireless ISPs (WISPs) and other local providers – telehealth’s marketability depends on network subscribers’ need for the technology. Specifically, how many subscribers need it, how easily do they understood the technology, does the technology make a difference in their lives, and how easily can you and venders package the technology?

After a year of research, it seems to me there are three categories of telehealth products and services targeted to individuals: 1) general medical services, heavily among those are doctor visits, 2) mental health services, and 3) home health care. A pilot test should have at least one product in category.

It’s still early in the telehealth game, and there aren’t many best practices locked in stone. However, community broadband project teams that conducted pilot test for their networks may have a foundation for creating telehealth pilots. It helps when a community recruits some creative talent on the pilot team.

There are some basic guidelines.

  • Learn everything you can about telehealth, remembering that this is a technology in constant evolution;

  • Administer a survey to potential pilot test participants to gauge their expectations of the pilot;

  • Document how healthcare is being administered currently in the medical disciplines that the pilot addresses;

  • Create an ongoing analytical engine of some sort to assess the data gathered; and

  • Networks management teams should determine what types of relationships they want to establish with vendors.

Although there are many things to learn about telehealth and how community broadband can deliver this more effectively, don’t overthink things. David Young, Fiber Infrastructure and Right of Way Manager for the City of Lincoln, NE says, “Cities waste an inordinate amount of time on studies, figuring out best deal. Getting the infrastructure deployed is the best deal!” Find a happy medium between recklessness abandon and glacially slow. Then act!

Craig Settles helps communities get more from their broadband networks. His latest analysis report, Telehealth and Broadband: In Sickness and In Health, Pt 2, advocates telehealth providers and community networks uniting.

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