One of the greatest barriers for healthcare success, from patient relationships to lab testing to second opinions, is simple geography.

When you’re a patient, you’re limited to the doctors and facilities near you. For doctors, the distance of a lab, specialist, or pathologist limits both the speed of research and diagnosis – especially if it’s a niche field and the next closest specialist is in another country or halfway around the globe.

On a more local scale, even a meeting of healthcare professionals in a region can be difficult to schedule.

So how can hospitals and other healthcare facilities knock down these geographic barriers? What IoT devices, medical computers, and strategies can be adopted to boost collaboration, communication, and foster a global network of medical teamwork?

What is Virtual Ideation?

The goal, of course, is to remove the limits of time and distance that so frequently slow down patient care and clinician work.

As former Solutions Architect of CDW T.J. Thelen said during an interview on the CDW website, “In the future we’ll no longer see geographic boundaries as a limitation.” Well, that future is swiftly becoming our present, if healthcare IT and tech manufacturers can stay agile in the face of shifting platforms and multiple solutions.

Some healthcare organizations have already begun embracing the concept of “virtual ideation,” which is really just the fanciest, shiniest new term for a combination of digital collaboration tools like video conferencing, shared accessible files on the cloud, and other online communication tools.

The Hackensack Meridian Health and the New Jersey Innovation Institute have actually created an “Ideation Center” facility specifically designed to research, test, and innovate new ideas for long-distance collaborating in healthcare.

St. Luke’s Health Network has paired with Microsoft to use their 365 cloud technology to facilitate online collaboration between employees. Between Microsoft’s Team software, the OneNote program for collaborative multi-media work, and shared PowerPoint, they found an adaptive solution for their virtual ideation sessions. Just another benefit to having a suite of Windows-compatible medical PCs that can do double-duty as daily work stations and cloud collaboration devices.

According to Accenture in a study in 2017, 90% of healthcare executives agreed that digital engagement with fellow workers and partners was extremely important. Whatever healthcare position you fill or are looking to fill, from health IT to clinician to office manager, know that a massive shift toward virtual ideation and telecommunication is on its way.

The First Step is Patient Data Security

This whole idea of digital collaboration can only work if all the data systems are secure and HIPAA compliant.

While the idea of patient data being sharable and accessible to specialists across the globe could have major positive impacts for patient care, there’s obviously a dark side to be exploited. Data hubs and shared data must be absolutely secure, which is no simple feat in the age of massive hacks and leaks from even the most powerful and secure corporations and governments in the world.

There are two primary ways to obtain this level of data security: at the point-of-access for users, and in the network itself. For point-of-access, multi-factor authentication and single sign-on techniques are 100% required. A medical-grade computer with a host of variable, customizable, and built-in sign on methods is ideal. Look for biometric options (e.g., fingerprint scanners), encrypted card readers (that can handle smartcards or CAC), encoded RFID chip readers, and ID barcode scanners that can pair with a user password (or one of these other mentioned gates) to create true multifactor authentication.

As for the security of the data on the network itself, consider the usefulness of new data schemas like blockchain. If you’re not familiar, blockchain is a shared, secure ledger that stores an encrypted copy of each file on every computer and node in the network. What this means is that every transaction with the data – say, updating a patient’s file with their newest symptoms, diagnosis, scans, or treatment – is recorded and verified across the entire network. Suspicious activity or unverified access is immediately tracked and shut down, allowing the secure copies on other nodes to remain unchanged by the fraudulent data.

On top of that, because of the constant automated checking and authentication, it’s far more difficult for hackers to break into any given node to obtain that information.

Sharing Data with Specialists around the World

While general practice physicians and standard specialists are fantastic at their jobs and can be found virtually anywhere, there are rare diseases and conditions that require a more esoteric expert.

Traditionally, having limited access to niche specialists in their area because of the die-roll of geographic location put a hard squeeze on patients suffering from rarer or more complex conditions.

Digital collaboration has taken a huge leap forward in this regard with digital image pathology, which allows clinicians to share in-depth 3D patient and sample scans with specialists all around the globe. In the past, patient tissue samples had to be specially packaged and sometimes sent to other countries or even continents to reach the proper specialized pathologist. Add more time for the pathologist to do their work and send the results (and possibly the samples) back (or worse, to another specialist for a second opinion, and it was possible for patients to go months without concrete information about their condition. This not only created huge anxiety issues for the patient, but even allowed their condition or disease to worsen while they waited without the proper treatment.

Now, high-density, high-memory tissue scans can be transferred over a secure connection in minutes, allowing pathologists anywhere to have full access to data equivalent to a primary sample.

The Benefits of Patient Collaboration and Telehealth

Not all collaboration is between clinicians. One of the most important incoming trends that can help disintegrate regional barriers is the field of telehealth.

Whether it comes to conversational AI chatbots for patient questions, virtual teledoc visits, nurse hotlines, video mental health experts, or long-distance biomedical data sharing, patient in the near future are in for a host of new and exciting solutions. Telehealth isn’t just a matter of leveraging our new interconnected technology but of combating doctor shortages, alleviating the burden of Medicare and other funding losses, and providing more comprehensive care for an ever-expanding population percentage of elderly patients.

Rural patients, traditionally underserved with healthcare (a disparity that’s only growing with hospital closures and flight from rural areas), can receive the same level of care and treatment access as a city-dweller in a downtown district with properly deployed telehealth.

All patients end up gaining more control over their own health, more engagement with their healthcare responsibility, and a better shot at successful treatment no matter the circumstances of their birth and location.

Healthcare without Borders

In a connected world, there’s no reason for one of our most valuable, life-saving, community-building industries to fall behind. Budget is always going to be an issue, it’s true, but employing some of these strategies can help any hospital IT coordinator make even the most cutting-edge methods a reality.

To learn more about the kind of medical computers that can pull double-duty for daily medical use and A/V conferences for virtual ideation, contact Cybernet today.