Friday, December 7, 2012

The device sitting on the center of your company's meeting room table connects you to your colleagues around the world. In fact, virtually every Fortune 100 company uses the video conferencing solution from Polycom, but implications for the video- and tele- conferencing device are more widespread than just corporate boardrooms.

Recently, 1,400 researchers stationed in the South Pole didn't have to wait-out the brutal six month winter to speak with a doctor. Those who needed the advice of a physician could do so on a "telemedicine" network operated by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and powered by Polycom.

In fact, Polycom powers a number of telemedicine services around the globe, providing people in rural environments access to top-notch healthcare.

Ron Emerson, the global director of healthcare for Polycom and also a registered nurse, used to operate a large telemedicine network in Maine in the 90's before he went to work for Polycom. Since that time, he's seen the technology get even better. Now patients and doctors can virtually meet and see each other in high-definition.

For telemedicine to work well, Emerson tells e news, a nurse should be located within the rural population, either someone who's traveled there or lives there. The nurse can conduct a basic physical on the patient and explain to the doctor via live stream what they're seeing, in medical terms.

The Maine Seacoast Mission is one such program that brought healthcare to rural islands off of Maine 11 years ago. Every two weeks, a 100-foot ship called the Sunbeam travels to approximately four islands to provide medical exams to people in these remote areas. The nurse onboard uses Polycom to connect patients to their primary care doctors, mental health professional and other physicians on the mainland, while providing in-person check ups.

"You have these islands that have 30 to 300 residents year-round, and all throughout history these islands have never had medical support, but now with the use of telemedicine [they do]," he said.

Telemedicine, particularly the Polycom technology, is also used by Medical Missions for Children, a nonprofit in New Jersey that provides medical knowledge and care to children in developing countries. The nonprofit has Polycom technology in more than 110 countries around the world. If a doctor in an underdeveloped country has a medical question or cannot help a patient, he or she can contact a specialist in the US via video conference to guide them through the case.

NuPhysicia is another company that uses Polycom through the University of Texas to provide virtual healthcare services for workers on oil rigs.

"We see people having some of the best care in the world regardless of their location," he said.

As Emerson sees it, healthcare is becoming more preventative. The use of telemedicine for people in rural areas could pave the way for more healthcare providers offering check-ups via teleconference.