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Health Sector adds Weight to Broadband Project

Health Sector adds Weight to Project Bringing Broadband to Regions

Health Minister Annette King said today a government initiative to allow faster telecommunications connections across the country has the potential to provide a big impact on future Information Technology developments in the health sector.

Ms King says the health sector's involvement with Project PROBE (PROvincial Broadband Extension) is being stepped up to explore ways it can help realise E-Health goals, particularly in providing a communications platform for future systems for clinicians in the regions.

Project PROBE is a combined initiative by the Education Minister Trevor Mallard, and Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton, to bring broadband to schools and promote the Knowledge Economy in the regions.

Ms King said because of potential benefits for E-Health, she has asked for a health representative to be appointed to the steering committee overseeing the regional tender evaluation process.

"This will mean the specific needs of the health sector can be incorporated into the roll-out, including the security and privacy of health data.”

Ms King said once PROBE was up and running, clinicians in the regions especially will be able to easily take advantage of having access to broadband. A Ministry of Health analysis has shown that schools and medical centres are more often than not very close to each other.

"This will mean a far easier time for health professionals, doctors, nurses, dentists and others, around the country to get access to broadband infrastructure. A fast and permanent network connection for users is critical to implementing E-Health initiatives, because of the size of data that can be transferred."

Ms King said examples would include file images of x-rays, CT and MRI scans, which could be at least several megabytes. A regular modem could take up to an hour to download an image, but with a broadband connection the 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.

"And 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." Ms King said telemedicine, where consultations between local and hospital clinicians and/or patients take place remotely, was another exciting health development that needed high-speed connections.

"In these situations a video link can be established between specialists and patients who may not be able to get to the city where the specialist works – so, for example, 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."

Ms King said such innovations are still in their infancy in New Zealand for a large part due to the difficulties in accessing broadband. “As technology improves, telemedicine will mean greater access to the health system for people living in regional areas, for both existing and new health services.

"The potential impact on the way health services can be delivered through broadband is tremendous. I’m looking forward to seeing the potential for using PROBE in delivering health services realised over the coming months and years, particularly as the recommendations from the WAVE (Working to Add Value) report are implemented.”

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