Free Broadband Internet Could Change Dramatically Shift Health IT Strategy

Today, I read that a new venture expects to offer free broadband Internet connections to all Americans sometime in mid-2012, starting in areas where existing commercial access is spotty and moving outward from there.  Before your “bulls***t” alarm goes off, it’s worth noting that the new venture, FreedomPop, is backed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom — a guy who at least deserves a hearing when it comes to technical innovation.

(Now, the scuttlebutt is that FreedomPop isn’t going anywhere until it figures out how to stop screwing up GPS signals, but even if it does face a problem of that magnitude, my guess is that with enough money, enough JoltCola and enough programmers at foosball tables, FreedomPop will fix things somehow.)

But, you say, why does this matter to me, a hospital IT master of the universe who’s much too busy to reach Engadget and purr over cool technological launches?  Well, here goes. My theory is that whether FreedomPop or a competitor pulls it off, we’re on the verge of free broadband Internet either way, probably within 24 months at most.  And once that happens, the nature of the way providers and consumers share medical information is going to change dramatically. So brace yourself for a new world in which bandwidth bottlenecks simply aren’t the issue driving everything else you do.

I admit that even if free broadband Internet connections were available across the U.S. right now, it might not have an immediate effect on how EMRs and other forms of health data sharing evolve.  But once such services are available to all, make no mistake — your job is going to change dramatically. Think I’m exaggerating?

Here’s just a few of the ways health data management will explode when broadband access is everywhere.  I’d love to know whether you think I’m getting ahead of myself here. To me, we’re barely in time to prepare!


Ways Free Broadband Internet Will Change Health IT 

*  Videoconferencing will become trivial, and patients, by sheer force of demand, will push doctors into delivering high volumes of consults via video.  Storing, indexing, reusing, broadcasting and manipulating such files will become a core part of your job.  Sound beastly? You bet it is, but there’s no way around it.

* Patients will expect low-latency access to their charts, educational video, the live feed from the cameras tracking their new-born niece, high-res images of the x-ray showing their broken wrist and so on.

* Doctors will expect you to support a brand new set of video, audio and data services which would never have worked in the narrowband world, everything from virtual medical conferences on Second Life to world-wide video Webinars.

*The volume of data your institution sends, receives and stores will shoot up astronomically. While you may end up dumping a lot of the excess, duplicative items, you’ll have to develop new storage and disaster recovery strategies to deal with that you do keep.

*Existing forms of Internet traffic will take on new significance. With everyone signed on, lots of serious talk will go on online. While IM chat might once have been just that, chat, now it very well may be IM+video+audio chat wich should be appended to a patient’s chart and eventually shared across an HIE.

*  The cloud (in whatever form it evolves to be) will be unavoidable. That means new ways of measuring, monitoring, securing, sharing and storing healthcare data.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • In Wisconsin we have a regional community area network which includes several health systems and physician groups which received an ARRA broadband grant ~$17M to build a WiMax network and connect it tot eh existing CAN. Although the initial goals for HealthIT uses are modest it is seen as a major game-changer down the road.

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