The Great Promise of Unified Communications and Health Care

Few areas match up as well as UC and health care. There is great promise both within institutions and as a way to extend benefits to patients in their homes. The challenge is that in many cases these cutting edge applications must be rolled out on legacy infrastructure.

 By Carl Weinschenk
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A story I wrote that posted yesterday on IT Business Edge looks at the prospects for unified communications in the health care field. I found that it is an area filled with great potential and great challenges.

That sounds like a clich´┐Ż -- and it is. But it is also the truth.

The benefits are obvious. Health care personnel are never in their offices, but they must be found on a moment's notice. In many cases, a life will hang in the balance. In the broader picture, UC enlarges traditional tele-health initiatives to bring a new level of interactivity and long-distance healing.

The challenges, too, are great. Medical facilities are loathe to move from the existing world of time-division multiplexed gear because it is so reliable. Indeed, the overwhelming need for reliability has led institutions to invest in expensive “big iron” legacy PBXes that can't easily be “ripped and replaced.”

The result, according to observers, is that health care facilities and organizations are more likely than other types of institutions to roll out interim systems in which cutting-edge UC applications sit on middleware layers that, in turn, rest on traditional time-division multiplexed (TDM) networks. The full IP treatment comes later.

As if to illustrate the upside of tele-health in general, telecoms.com reports on a McKinsey report on the potential of m-health. It is possible to argue whether "m-health” is synonymous with UC. The bottom line is that UC applications will play a big role in this effort, no matter what definition is used. The study, according to the telecoms story, concludes that m-health could generate $20 billion in the U.S. this year. The worldwide figure, the study says, is between $50 billion and $60 billion.

Of course, health care communications is an established and thriving category. Projects, such as a study at five institutions funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Project HealthDesign, show that aggressive research is ongoing. The $2.4 million study, according to mobihealthnews, is aimed at studying how sensors and smartphones can help capture observations of daily living for inclusion in clinical care.

The definition of unified communications is famously malleable. Some health care applications may not fit snugly in existing definitions – but they will soon.

This article was originally published on Mar 9, 2010
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