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Telehealth vendors not fazed by NBN debate

The NBN will be a boon to Australian healthcare regardless of which political party has its way on the final technology approach for delivery, officials from health IT vendors said at a lunch in Sydney.

The officials indicated that either the Labor party's fibre-to-the-premises or the Coalition's fibre-to-the-node plan could offer the minimum speeds and reliability levels required by telehealth and other bandwidth-intensive health IT activities.

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The Coalition has said its FTTN version of the NBN, which would provide slower speeds than the Labour's FTTP approach, will offer minimum speeds of 25Mbps.

Telehealth vendor LifeSize Communications can provide solid 1080p video over a 1.7Mbps downstream connection, according to the vendor's ANZ regional sales manager, Gerry Forsythe. It can provide 720p at 30 frames per second over 1Mbps downstream, he said.

"Right now, [telehealth] works quite well over a dedicated network," Forsythe said. The NBN will enable even higher definition resolutions than 1080p, but "it doesn't have a big impact on me right now," he said.

However, Forsythe said the NBN will improve sharing of patient records, which is currently slow. "Pulling the data on both screens is the problem right now."

Orion Health CTO Chris Stevens said that, for many health applications, "good solid Internet is helpful, but the high end of the NBN is not necessarily critical." It's more important to have a high penetration of the NBN across Australia's households, he said.

The health IT panel agreed the NBN will provide advantages to current broadband in Australia, which is dominated by ADSL2+.

The NBN provides the broadband infrastructure needed for IT that can reduce the healthcare sector's ballooning costs, said Frost & Sullivan managing director, Mark Dougan.

He estimated that healthcare spending is nearing 10 per cent of the GDP and could hit 15 per cent in the next few years.

"With the rise of healthcare expenditure to pretty much unsustainable levels, IT offers perhaps one way of holding that rise back through more efficient and lower cost delivery of healthcare services at a variety of points in the healthcare delivery chain."

Forsythe said, "Everybody's hoping that the NBN will make it easier to do [telehealth]." While ADSL2+ works, it's "not perfect for video," he said. The NBN "just can't come quick enough."

The NBN "just enables more things to happen," said Allied Telesis Australia country manager, Scott Penno. "If you've got multiple videoconferencing units, that just works so much better over an NBN [connection] than an ADSL link."

More than speed and latency, the NBN will provide greater reliability that is critical for health IT, Penno said. "The NBN ... is a whole lot more reliable than an ADSL service."

However, Penno said the NBN will only be useful for healthcare with the right apps running on top of it. "Ultimately, the pipes and the plumbing are only one part of the mix. The things that we do with that are what really matter."

Allocate Software general manager of ANZ, Peter Croft, said the NBN will help reduce costs in rural, remote areas to the same level as metro areas. Allocate provides a cloud version of its health IT software that is cheaper to install than the on-premise version, but low broadband speeds prevent rural customers from buying it, he said.

Forsythe said he hopes satellite broadband provided by the NBN for the most remote areas will be an improvement over existing non-NBN satellite services.

"The delay on that can be seven to 10 seconds ... and constantly dropping out," he said. "Satellite right now for video is not good. We don't recommend it at all."

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia


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