Is Telemedicine Unified Communications?

telemedicine-14768_1The American Telemedicine Association defines Telemedicine as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.”   This certainly fits the concept of Unified Communications.
What I find strange is that it has, for the most part, evolved as a separate entity.  Yes, Cisco has their Cisco Health Presence product but even they seem to categorize it differently than the standard UC entries on their site.  I think what scares away the general UC vendor concept is HIPAA.  The privacy requirements of HIPAA move telemedicine into its own category.
If you are a hospital or healthcare provider, you should, however, definitely look at what UC capabilities you already have and look at how they can be put into place.  At a minimum, simple web or video conferencing can be used for training.  Where things get sticky, however, is when you start to move towards communications involving actual patient care.  That is where HIPAA rears its ugly head.
You can, however, avoid some of the HIPAA challenges with some simple things included in most (if not all) UC systems.  They are:
  1. Ensure that all video and audio is encrypted
  2. If you are recording the video or audio, make sure your recording platform supports encryption as well
  3. Ensure that your compliance officers are part of any decisions made in terms of Telemedicine
  4. Conduct regular security audits of your communications

As you are beginning your initiatives, you may want to consider recording you telemedicine sessions.  The recordings can be part of the medical record.  Additionally, a copy of the recording can be given to the patient for further consultation.

So, as you see, telemedicine truly is part of Unified Communications.  It includes items like video conferencing, recording, telephony, and such.  It is time vendors link the two.


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