High-speed broadband: The key to telehealth in Ireland
Healthcare, and the way we receive it, is advancing thanks to pioneering health professionals and the availability of high-speed broadband
Telehealth – the remote delivery of a health service using telecommunications – is still a new phenomenon in Ireland. A survey by the Medical Council last year found that just 3% of people have gone online to receive a diagnosis, have a consultation, or get a repeat or new prescription. Despite the low figures, Galway-based consultant rheumatologist Dr. Ronan Kavanagh believes it’s only a matter of time before more people start embracing the potential of telehealth. Vital to him pioneering that movement is high-speed broadband.
Dr. Kavanagh admits that he wasn’t initially sold on the concept of telehealth. “I think I envisaged that technology would make it in some way cold, but in a strange way the reverse has happened: it has helped me better engage with my patients,” he says. “Technology has enhanced my relationship with patients in ways that I couldn’t have expected.”
Using a fully secure platform called Facetalk, Dr. Kavanagh can carry out live video consultations with patients without needing to be physically present. He says: “I will be looking, for example, how a patient moves on the camera. Also I can do a basic physical examination using video that I could never do over the telephone. This is something that I think will become much more widespread.”
Dr. Kavanagh also uses an innovative video platform specifically designed for health professionals, on which he can record information videos for patients. They can then watch them at home on their mobile devices or computers. Dr. Kavanagh says: “Whereas they can get lots of information on the internet, I think the idea of getting video information from somebody that they feel they can trust, it makes them recall it a lot better.”
As he continues to integrate technology into his patient services, Dr. Kavanagh says none of it would have been possible without a fast, reliable internet connection. “It would have been physically impossible to do it without high-speed broadband,” he says. “The way in which I record the information and upload it, it can happen really quickly and seamlessly. And, the way in which patients can download it if they’ve got high-speed broadband means they can access high quality video information quickly.”
As access to high-speed broadband increases, bolstered in Ireland by open eir’s fibre rollout programme, Dr. Kavanagh believes the potential for health technology is enormous. He uses the example of monitoring the electrical activity of the heart using ECG on a smartphone. Dr. Kavanagh says: “High-speed broadband is essential. You’re talking about large volumes of data and you cannot transfer that unless you have high-speed broadband to connect it.”