The global pandemic is creating a new normal where every aspect of the way we work, live, learn, and play is changed, and one of the industries that will undergo the greatest transformation is healthcare.

Doctors may never go back to pre-COVID-19 days when routine face-to-face consultations were the norm. The coronavirus opened the floodgates and put existing networking technologies to a test. While many service providers passed with flying colors by handling spikes in network traffic, COVID-19 revealed connectivity shortcomings that must be addressed going forward.

Telehealth is the way of the future

The current healthcare model of having to get in a car, drive across town, sit in a waiting room to see someone is archaic. Over the past few years, I have interviewed many healthcare professionals about telehealth, which was starting to see some usage, although it was the exception, not the norm.  COVID-19 accelerated something that was a “good idea” into actual deployments although there is more work to be done.

For the University of Texas Galveston Medical Branch (UTMB), which consists of hospitals and emergency departments on four campuses, shifting 50% of its patient visits to telehealth video visits had to happen quickly. Fortunately, UTMB already had the infrastructure in place to provide remote patient care years before the pandemic, so its own network handled the increase in telehealth visits effectively.

The big issue UTMB ran into was internet access for patients. Telemedicine often lacks the quality-of-service controls that internal networks have, Mike King, UTMB’s director of network and telecommunications, said during a recent Cisco virtual roundtable focused on internet connectivity during COVID-19. UTMB found itself at the mercy of carriers, and found that some applications fail more frequently than others.

“When you have telemedicine encounters that are only 10 or 15 minutes to start with, you don’t have time for an elaborate setup of an app or dropped calls. That can fracture the patient experience quite a bit,” said King.