Health puts hand up on broadband project

The health sector, through the Ministry of Health, has entered the Probe rural and regional broadband project.

The health sector, through the Ministry of Health, has entered the Probe rural and regional broadband project.

One of the sector’s aims in getting directly involved is to ensure that any network setup eventually adopted in any of the 14 regions will have sufficient security and privacy protection to allow the transmission of confidential health information. The health influence in broadband will be through one representative appointed to the Probe steering committee.

Although the formal announcement was only made on February 14, the involvement of the health sector was signalled to potential suppliers in an appendix to the Probe proposals tender, issued to them last December, says MED ICT specialist Frank March.

March, who returned a Computerworld query directed to Health Minister Annette King’s office, says the health sector has therefore had some input to the process of formulating the tender for the project, issued in December, but its formal involvement could only be announced when the ministry had “made some decisions internally”.

The sector will supply “additional aggregated demand” for all regional Probe projects, he says. The needs of the sector are not greatly different from that of education and other sectors already involved in Probe; all need reasonably secure and private communications, March says. Where there is some difference is in the fact that health is a “24x7” operation, while education’s major demand is five days a week with holidays excluded. “That may affect capacity planning.”

The health sector’s Probe representative has not yet been appointed.

“Decisions on who will be appointed, and their role on the committee and on the tender evaluation subcommittee are expected in the coming weeks,” says a statement from Annette King.

King says the sector sees great potential in broadband communications, for quickly transmitting diagnostic images such as X-rays, and for performing telemedicine.

With a broadband connection an image file could be far more easily and quickly sent to a patient’s GP to be put in their records, or to a specialist for diagnosis, King says.

“Of course broadband needs to be widely available to health practitioners before you can roll out such technologies. Without using the Probe project, it would likely take much longer to provide rural GPs with access through the alternative of waiting for commercial companies to ‘wire up’ the regions.”

With a “telemedicine” video link established between specialists and patients who may not be able to get to the city where the specialist works a patient could have a skin condition diagnosed by a dermatologist via a video link, without having to travel to the city where that specialist works,” King says.

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