Access to health services is one of the most-frequently mentioned applications for the National Broadband Network (NBN). But if a brand-new hospital gets constructed and already has fibre throughout, why does it need the NBN?
That question got put to Brendan Kelly, director ICT architecture at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, during a panel discussion at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne today. His answer was a reminder that one of the benefits of universal broadband is that it is universal, not just down to geographic luck.
Since the Royal Children's Hospital has been entirely rebuilt, it has full fibre connectivity to other hospitals in its area, and 1GB connections to every desktop (in his colourful turn of phrase: "We wired and wirelessed it to hell and back"). But as Kelly explains, high speeds are needed to reach beyond the hospital walls:
We work with other hospitals, both metro and regional. We work with GPS and community care providers out there. We have our own staff out there as well. Our focus is to make those relationships richer. That means the sharing of high quality information to support health care more broadly, most importantly to the patient and their family. It's getting us out effectively to the boundaries of the state and beyond.
Kelly noted that a children's hospital has a largely youthful audience (in terms of patients and their parents), which also adds to the demand for efficient technology: "As a children's hospital, we have a young consumer base so the expectation [around technology] already is high and it's going to increase."
On the same panel, DBCDE first assistant secretary Keith Besgrove noted the benefits of NBN services for health in the Northern Territory and other remote regions. "Something that is often overlooked in discussions of the NBN is the provision of the interim satellite service and the future full satellite service," he said. "We're starting to look at the potential to use that satellite connectivity to deliver improved services to some of the poorest communities in Australia. Projects like Health eTowns mean the reach of medical services can be dramatically enhanced."
Besgrove also rejected suggestions the project wouldn't be embraced in indigenous communities. "We don't get any sense in the Northern Territory that there's any resistance to the technology because the benefits are so self-evident. It doesn't replace the need for face to face contact entirely but there are many instances where follow-up visits can be made using it."
NBN haters are going to hate, and I'm sure arguments over whether medical services could be delivered on the existing network or via 3G will continue. But these applications are already happening.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman visited Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.