Videoconferencing Enhances Medical Service

by Matt McDowell

A record number of desktop videoconferencing devices will be sold this year, as more and more companies realize the opportunities this technology provides. Most often the devices are used to hold regular, real-time meetings with a remote person or group. This saves companies the time and expense involved in travel, while allowing people to meet as often as necessary to move projects through in a timely manner. However, there is a growing demand for videoconferencing in a variety of highly specialized situations, where the benefits are far different.

In the medical field, for example, patients at rural clinics are able to meet with urban medical specialists via videoconferencing systems, while doctors can consult with distant colleagues. Medical treatment is even being made available in correctional facilities via video, eliminating the costs (and complications) of transporting the inmates. And in one Tacoma, Washington, healthcare business, videoconferencing is allowing exam results to be communicated from physician to patient almost immediately.

Tacoma Radiology provides a full range of diagnostic exams and intervention procedures in outpatient clinics and hospitals within Washington State. Network Coordinator Cindy Price has told us that the radiologists were looking for a way to allow hospital-based radiologists to view ultrasound exams being conducted in their outpatient clinics in real-time. Her Qwest telephone company representative suggested she consider using the Polycom ViewStation™, which provides audio, video, and data connections. They now have 6 of these devices installed—3 in hospitals and 3 in their outpatient facilities.

In Tacoma Radiology’s outpatient clinics, the ViewStations are connected directly to the ultrasound equipment. Images from any exam conducted on this equipment can be sent automatically to any of the 3 hospitals over the company’s T1 data connection. At the hospital the radiologist uses a ViewStation connected to a monitor to instantly review the images. This allows the radiologist to monitor the exam and clarify any questionable findings directly with the technologist during the procedure. In the past, patients had to wait up to 24 hours for their exam results, as the images were delivered to the radiologists on videotape. With this technology, the results reporting has been significantly reduced.

According to Price, the ViewStations have been especially well received because they are so easy to use. “They’re much like TV/VCR setups, so even the doctors who aren’t very technologically oriented find them very user friendly.” They have also proven to be very reliable. The cost for this teleradiology capability (including 6 Polycom 512 ViewStations and 6 Sony monitors) was in the $50,000 range. When you consider the high cost of travel, and the perhaps-incalculable fees involved with instantaneous medical results, such a price tag seems almost insignificant.

As videoconferencing technology continues to improve, and prices continue to decline over time, we can expect to see it used in an increasing number of innovative ways—both in medicine and in many other industries.