What My Daughter's Broken Leg Taught Me About Broadband

iStock_000009376751XSmallMy daughter broke her leg on Saturday, and despite my worry for her, I spent a considerable amount of time at the hospitals where she was treated noticing the variety of familiar technology used by the doctors. While some of what I saw was awesome, I also saw firsthand how critical consistent, fast broadband speeds are to the success of telehealth programs.

We went first to an urgent care clinic near our home in the hopes of avoiding the emergency room. No such luck. The diagnosis of a broken leg with the potential for a hip injury sent us over to the Dell Children’s Medical Center. But to get the address, the doctor at the urgent care clinic had to check his iPhone, as the web connection there chose that very moment to go down. So armed with a CD containing my daughter’s X-rays, we drove to the emergency room at Dell Children’s and signed in.

We handed over the CD to the nurse, and then we waited. The doctor came in and confirmed the leg fracture diagnosis, but said he needed to consult with the on-call pediatric orthopedist and an on-call radiologist about the possible hip injury. Neither needed to come into the hospital, our doc explained, as he could just send them my daughter’s X-rays at home.

That was pretty cool except for the fact that the large image files would take at least 15 minutes or more to transfer (we waited far longer, but that wasn’t due to slow broadband speeds). During that time, I wondered what the doctors’ connection speeds were and whether or not they had caps on their home connections. I wondered also if the hospital provided their docs with business-class web access in their homes in order to speed up such file transfers and avoid going over a cap, which reminded me of how, during Time Warner Cable’s attempts to implement its tiered pricing plans, among the leading opponents were doctors in New York. Eventually, the ER doc heard back from the orthopedist and radiologist and determined that it was a simple fracture. Meanwhile, technology eased our wait, thanks to iPhone applications I downloaded that were recommended to me by a colleague, as well as my ability to play old-school DVDs on my MacBook that my daughter could watch.

However, this experience, especially after Cisco’s announcement Friday that it plans to work with UnitedHealth Group to provide telehealth in rural areas, has me even more convinced that we need faster broadband everywhere. Too bad the stimulus money doesn’t so far offer that.

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