Rapidly advancing digital technologies and proliferating mobility have dramatically altered the landscape of patient care. Not long ago, interactions with medical professionals only took place face-to-face, but today’s patients are becoming increasingly comfortable addressing a variety of medical issues through telemedicine, and the result is more affordable, convenient, and specialized care that can be delivered in real-time.
Telemedicine is a growing field that leverages telecommunication and information technology to connect doctors and patients that are not in the same physical vicinity. The increasing popularity of telemedicine techniques has helped patients all over the world receive quality, expert care regardless of their location, and allowed patients in rural or underserved areas to gain access to specialists who are generally located at better-equipped facilities and in well-established urban areas.
The success of telemedicine is extremely dependent on the provider’s ability to access and visualize critical patient data, test results, charts, and high-definition medical images quickly and from any location. And for many doctors, simply viewing the data isn’t enough; in order to properly do their job, they must be able to pan, zoom, view select slices, or examine subsections to properly diagnose and treat a particular patient or condition.
Enter high performance computing (HPC). HPC technologies are currently used in a variety of industries to solve large and daunting problems, and the healthcare field has rapidly adopted these technologies to tackle complex health challenges and power new breakthroughs. Remote visualization is one HPC technology that is becoming a crucial enabler for the telemedicine field, enabling doctors to retrieve the data and images they need in order to diagnose and treat patients from anywhere.
In remote visualization, files and data sets are stored and maintained by a central server while a number of remote clients are allowed to access and visualize a copy. Remote visualization allows data to remain more secure in the data center, and enables medical professionals to retrieve graphics-intensive 3D medical images using a simple internet connection. And because there is no need to download large files onto their local workstation, users don’t lose precious time waiting for files to be moved between their workstation and the cluster. In the healthcare field, those seconds could save a life.
Remote visualization solutions are currently used in a variety of telemedicine applications – here are just a few examples:
- Teleradiology – Specialized radiologists (MRI, pediatric, neurology, etc.) can offer their findings without being physically present with the patient, allowing general practice physicians to collaborate with doctors who are considered subject matter experts for specific conditions.
- Hospice care – Particularly useful for patients who are no longer physically able to visit a doctor, remote visualization can help care providers access important data and images and deliver quality care while the patients remain in the comfort of their own homes.
- Remote/rural areas – Remote visualization can connect patients in extremely rural or remote areas with doctors in larger cities, increasing their access to specialists who are typically concentrated at larger, more urban hospitals.
Emergency room doctors in rural New Mexico recently launched a program that helped them share brain scans with stroke specialists in Albuquerque. This helped them better collaborate on life-threatening stroke cases before making the costly and risky decision to transfer the patient to a larger, inner-city hospital. Gaining this immediate access to doctors who were more experienced in treating strokes has already helped to drastically reduce the number of patients that needed to be transferred, and helped rural doctors better determine when to administer the life-saving TPA stroke drug.
There’s no denying this major paradigm shift currently occurring in the healthcare sector. Patient care is progressively moving away from face-to-face interactions, instead relying more heavily on visualization technologies that can enable doctors and patients to interact and collaborate regardless of their location. The result is a dramatically enhanced style of healthcare delivery and better, more affordable care.
For more information on remote visualization and other game-changing HPC life sciences technologies, please follow me on Twitter at @wheatHPC.