Telecoms excited about, wary of healthcare industry

The slow but accelerating uptake of IT in healthcare, plus an aging population that's looking for more in-home care, are drawing intense interest from telecommunications firms. But, as with so many other industries that have sought to profit from this market, the telecoms are finding out just how complex healthcare really is.

In the first installment of a promised series on telemedicine, TelephonyOnline examines the opportunity and the challenges the telecom industry faces in healthcare. "There is the opportunity for sensors on or around the body to be connected through low-power Bluetooth or other technologies to a handset and use [the] handset to send the sensor data to a central location," according to Sam Lucero, practice director for mobile-to-mobile connectivity at ABI Research. "This segment is emergent but we see cellular carriers getting more interested."

Indeed, Verizon Communications has established a Connected Health Care Solutions division, Qwest Communications provides the backbone of the Colorado Telehealth Network, and AT&T is involved with personal health records. Cable TV provider Cox Communications wants to take advantage of the baby boomers turning to home and mobile monitoring. "We expect to use the full complement of voice, data and video services in the home," says Cox executive Mike Braham.

But the big telecoms all seem to acknowledge how difficult the task may be. AT&T, for one, is counting on the continued selection of standards and development of the Nationwide Health Information Network. "I think, if I might go out on a limb here, I think that, without that, the whole telehealth thing may be doomed to continuation of niche mentality," says Bob Miller, executive director of technology research at AT&T Labs.

To learn more about how telecoms view the telehealth industry:
- have a look at the TelephonyOnline story