Internet access is essential to practices that want to use email, telehealth, m-health and other online technologies to do business. But the speed (how fast your access is) and the bandwidth (how many users can connect at the same time) will determine how useful your service will be.
These services are commonly referred to as ‘broadband’ connections. However, there are a few different types of connections that fit under this banner. The main types of internet connections you would have heard of are:
- Fixed broadband: A fixed broadband service is where you have a physical connection to the internet. This could be an ADSL or ADSL2+ connection that uses your telephone line, a cable connection that may use the same connection that Foxtel and Optus pay-TV services use, or fibre optic cable, a high-speed technology using light to transmit information. A fixed connection generally offers better connections at the same price point as other options.
- Fixed wireless or satellite: Where a physical connection isn’t suitable, a fixed wireless service may be another option. In this situation, an antenna or dish is installed on the outside of your building and connects to a high-speed signal from your internet service provider.
- Mobile broadband: Mobile broadband uses the same connection as your mobile phone. While it is fast, it can be quite expensive when using it regularly. It’s recommended that mobile broadband only be used for light external work.
- NBN network: The NBN is Australia’s new high-speed broadband network, promising speeds much faster than ADSL2+ and cable. It will be offered through a mix of different options such as wired and satellite.
High-speed broadband in general practice and improving business efficiency
A fast internet connection opens up new ways to work with patients, your own staff and other practices. It can provide access to real time and interactive video consultations with patients and healthcare providers, and enable more efficient use of in-home healthcare solutions.
Sharing data and the transfer of files quickly and easily, results in more seamless online consultations between healthcare providers and patients. Faster internet speeds will allow general practitioners and patients to take advantage of rich media, such as video and images, without delays. Through remote monitoring and via telehealth video consultations, overall business processes can be improved if they align and fit in with current workflow.
High-speed broadband also provides opportunities for faster networked connections across multiple practice sites and improved remote access due to the high bandwidth and reliability.
You can also use ‘voice over internet protocol’, or VOIP, where your calls are sent online rather than through the phone system. Using VOIP will mean replacing your regular landline phones with internet-enabled phones, but the overall cost should be cheaper. If you want to keep your landline, you can still make expensive interstate and overseas calls more cheaply using online services such as Skype. Both VOIP and Skype rely on a fast internet connection.
Online training can be easily accessible and help staff feel confident with new hardware and software. While it’s hard to beat face-to-face personalised training, there are many resources online, including training programs and ‘webinars’ which can give staff the information and confidence they need to select and use information and communications technology (for example, Microsoft’s Digital Literacy program). Watching a webinar or training video or taking part in online training is far more feasible with a smooth, fast internet connection.