Implementing Telehealth Technology in the Data Center

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on September 3, 2020

Science fiction author William Gibson famously observed that “The future is already here- it’s just not evenly distributed.” The quote certainly applies to telehealth technology, which is bringing convenient, customizable healthcare services to more people than ever before but has yet to be widely implemented across the industry. As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to accelerate their telehealth plans, data centers will play a vital role in helping them ensure that these services are more broadly (and evenly) distributed.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is a broad category that refers to any digital technology and information systems that allow people to access health care services remotely. It covers all aspects of healthcare, ranging from direct consultation with a medical professional to simply receiving automated text reminders for appointment dates. Telehealth systems can be used to order medical supplies, refill prescriptions, or track important health monitoring data.

The telehealth industry is expected to undergo dramatic growth in the near future. A recent Frost & Sullivan forecast, for instance, predicts the market to increase sevenfold by 2025. Much of this growth is unquestionably due to the impact of COVID-19, which was responsible for an astonishing 4,345 percent growth in non-urgent virtual-care visits in March and April of 2020 (and a 683 percent growth in urgent virtual care visits).

Regardless of the form telehealth technology takes, the common purpose of these systems is to make healthcare more accessible and readily available so that patients can manage their own health more effectively. They also improve communication between medical professionals and their patients, which facilitates greater interoperability of essential health data.

Telehealth vs Telemedicine: What's the Difference?

Although the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” are frequently used interchangeably, they actually have distinct meanings. Telehealth generally refers to the technologies and services used to provide remote care. Telemedicine, on the other hand, is used to describe specific medical services administered by a remote physician.

Telehealth, therefore, encompasses a much broader range of health services than telemedicine. A smartphone app that allows patients to access and transmit their health data as well as track and refill their prescriptions would be considered a form of telehealth. Using the same app to meet virtually with a clinical practitioner would fall under the category of telemedicine.

5 Telehealth Technology Challenges (and How Data Centers Can Solve Them)

Although telehealth technology has been available in many forms over the two decades, a series of technical challenges have prevented it from becoming an integral part of every healthcare practice. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many healthcare providers to invest in solutions, and many of them have turned to data centers for assistance. These facilities are often uniquely well-suited to addressing telehealth challenges.

Challenge 1: Latency

Internet of Things (IoT) devices are an important component of telehealth infrastructure. These devices help to gather important data and connect patients to critical telehealth services. Unfortunately, their performance is often undermined by latency. A byproduct of distance, latency is the delay that occurs while data packets travel from one point of a network to another. Data transfers are still bound by the laws of physics, so some degree of latency is inevitable. Minimizing the distance between points in the network, however, can significantly reduce latency. That’s why edge data centers located closer to end users are incredibly valuable for any healthcare network. They help to ensure that data is as real-time as possible and avoid complications that could result from network delays.

Challenge 2: System Uptime

When implementing telehealth services, a healthcare organization needs to have confidence that its patients will always be able to access their essential systems. Having patient data stored in an easily accessible telehealth application won’t do anyone much good if the server is constantly going down. Healthcare organizations often cannot tolerate any level of downtime, which has prevented them from moving beyond their existing infrastructure. Colocation data centers with 100% uptime SLAs and a full range of system redundancies can ensure that telehealth patients can always access essential data and services when they need them.

Challenge 3: Connectivity

Telehealth systems often consist of more than just one service or application. They leverage multiple computing resources to build a cohesive platform that allows them to accomplish a variety of tasks. In order to build those systems, however, healthcare organizations need the connectivity to integrate each element into a truly hybrid IT solution. This can be prohibitively expensive with on-premises data infrastructure, especially if specialized services or cabling need to be put in place. With a carrier-neutral data center, the healthcare provider can place their servers in an environment that gives them access to a broad spectrum of connectivity partners so they can build a telehealth IT solution that meets the specific needs of their patients.

Challenge 4: Storage

According to a 2019 study by Dell EMC, the healthcare industry has seen the total volume of health data increase by 878 percent since 2016. Collectively, healthcare organizations managed about 8.4 petabytes (PB) of data in 2018. That number will only continue to grow in the years to come, especially as organizations roll out telehealth devices that collect even more health data from patients. In order to manage that deluge of information, healthcare organizations need a, IT solution that can easily scale its store its storage capacity without compromising performance. Colocation data centers make managing large quantities of data easier than ever. Data center tenants can both install new equipment quite easily and connect their systems to cloud storage services to ensure that they’re always able to manage the data they’re taking in.

Challenge 5: Compliance

Healthcare organizations face unique regulatory restraints when it comes to managing data and rolling out new technology solutions. Any platform they developed must comply with HIPAA/HITECH guidelines to demonstrate to patients that the proper controls and processes are in place to safeguard their health information. By building telehealth solutions upon the HIPAA\HITECH compliant infrastructure of a colocation data center, organizations can rest easy knowing that their applications are supported by a robust foundation that helps them to mitigate risk and protect their customers from potential data breaches.

Unlock the Potential of Telehealth with vXchnge

As an award-winning colocation provider with data center locations in key growth markets around the country, vXchnge is well-situated to support the telehealth needs of the healthcare industry. That’s why hospital systems like Houston Methodist have entrusted our data centers with keeping their essential networks up and running around the clock. To learn more about what your healthcare organization can do with a data center that’s engineered for perfection, contact one of our colocation experts today.

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