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Ethernet For Electronic Health Care
How IP-based bandwidth services will be the enabler for electronic health care services

By: John Shepler

It’s no secret that there is ample opportunity to improve service and cut costs in the health care field. Much of the “low hanging fruit” involves digitizing, storing & transporting medical records and automating what remains of clerical processes. Beyond that, there are new applications such as remote diagnostics that can bring medical services to remote areas and emergency scenes like auto accidents. Sounds good, so what’s stopping us?

The Broadband Bottleneck
One big bottleneck is the lack of universal broadband infrastructure, both wired and wireless. Until recently, the best connection that many doctor’s offices, clinics and medical centers could afford was the venerable T1 line running at 1.5 Mbps. The sheer size of high resolution medical images, especially when bundled into complete electronic medical records, makes the once speedy T1 line a potential bottleneck to productivity.

FCC Proposed Remedies
The FCC has identified barriers to e-care caused by limited adoption of high speed digital connections and has proposed remedies in its National Broadband Plan. Bringing broadband connections to rural areas for the first time is the focus of stimulus funding. There are also licensing, privileging, and credentialing standards that need to be modernized to enable physicians to practice remotely. Additionally, structures need to be put in place to ensure patient privacy in an insecure online world.

Ethernet & MPLS To The Rescue
The private sector hasn’t been sleeping through all this. There’s a quiet revolution going on in the telecommunications industry that will be a major factor in enabling the efficiencies of e-health care. The FCC estimates that over $700 billion could be saved over 15-25 years through electronic health records and remote monitoring technology alone. What will be the primary transport technology for these wide band applications? It’s almost surely going to be Metro Ethernet, Carrier Ethernet and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks.

IP is The Commonality
The thing these communications technologies have in common is a core based on packet switching or IP networking. MPLS adds privacy and efficiency for connecting multiple locations in a single mesh network. That could include hospitals, clinics, physicians offices and insurance companies.

Cost Advantage of Ethernet
One reason why Ethernet will play such an important role in the medical networks to come is cost. Metro Ethernet over both fiber and copper has proven to be less expensive per Mbps than traditional circuit switched telecom technologies. MPLS networks have all but taken over the role of multipoint to multipoint secure networks from Frame Relay. In some cases, Ethernet connections are even cheaper than T1 lines on an absolute cost basis.

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