It's Shark Week on Discovery Channel, and one episode will focus on how paramedics leverage AT&T's IoT connectivity and a virtual exam room to remotely monitor and diagnose diver conditions in shark-infested waters off the coast of the Bahamas.
The divers and production team on the show were able to access a full clinic through Dictum Health's Virtual Exam Room (VER) through wireless connectivity from AT&T. Through VER, physicians on land were able to remotely monitor critical vital signs, ECG, and pain levels to ensure the health and safety of the divers and production team.
"We've had products that we've worked with used in a variety of environments, but never with sharks. So this is a first for us," said Tad Reynes, vice president of IoT Healthcare Solutions at AT&T. Typically AT&T wirelessly connects more mundane medical devices such as cardiac monitors, CPAP machines for sleep apnea, and personal emergency response systems.
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This is an extreme use case of how IoT solutions can provide healthcare in remote and difficult-to-access locations through connectivity. "The great thing about IoT connectivity is that it enables these cases that previously were not thought possible," Reynes said.
"Healthcare in remote areas, not only in the United States but around the world, is made difficult by the same capitalism that challenges a ton of these cases. If you don't have a lot of people who consume the service, it's less profitable to provide the service in that area. Rural hospitals have been closing across the country, it's a little bit of an epidemic. They have a hard time keeping doors open with the revenue that they have coming in. The real challenge is how do you provide healthcare to people in these areas?
"That problem is magnified when you go to areas of the world where people will sometimes travel hundreds of miles to get to a clinic to be cared for. And sometimes the ailments they suffer from don't allow for that transportation to take place," Reynes said.
A system such as VER serves as a remote care station for patients.
"It's able to provide virtual care in a similar fashion to what you would receive in a clinic," Reynes said. "One of the things we love with this solution is that we really feel like we're helping to provide a complete transformation in the way that healthcare is delivered. The physician can conduct a virtual exam using Dictum Health's equipment and get very similar information that they could get from the patient if the patient was sitting in front of them in their clinic. This provides such a monumental shift in the care that is able to be provided to these patients."
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Using a remote system such as VER raises the quality of healthcare that patients receive.
"Quite honestly, it also addresses the cost issue, where everybody in the United States is aware of the fact that we pay more for healthcare than any other country in the world, and it doesn't necessarily provide the best outcomes," Reynes said. "We will soon be running at 20% of GDP dedicated to healthcare. That's just not a sustainable figure. You have to find a way to provide better healthcare at a more manageable cost. Technology, enabled by IoT, allows that to happen."
Obviously, being on Shark Week gives plenty of publicity to AT&T, and opens up new possibilities for expanding this line of its business. "It is funny how sometimes it takes an over-the-top PR instant to draw greater interest to solutions like this," Reynes said. "But we have additional drivers in the marketplace, like regulatory reform and reimbursement reform, that are also hastening the adoption of these tools."
The episode, "Sharkwrecked," airs on Discovery on Thursday, July 26 at 9 pm ET/PT.
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.