Healthcare: A Prime Cable Vertical

Cable and Healthcare Healthcare is one of the big three verticals (along with government and education) talked about as prime opportunities for cable operators.

In fact, since January there have been several "wins" announced within the industry, with one of the latest coming from Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA). Earlier this month, Nizhoni Health Systems, a home healthcare agency in Massachusetts, announced it would use Comcast Business Ethernet and phone [] services to unify 11 locations statewide on one network. Like many other medical facilities, Nizhoni is making the transition from paper to electronic medical records (EMRs). Security, capacity and redundancy were key requirements to protect sensitive information, accommodate the size of EMRs, and ensure continued access to the system.

The healthcare industry, however, is rapidly changing with advances in nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, personalized medicine and genomics. Ken Fricklas, director of application technology development at CableLabs, said this is all good news for cable operators, who are well-suited to be the network provider of choice for medical providers.

"Cable operators have deeper relationships with small to medium businesses and the home market," Fricklas said. "There is the security operation at CableLabs ... and (operators) have a large enough mass that it is possible to influence standards in a way to get things (moving)."

In the not too distant future, it is foreseeable that providers might be asked to deliver secure end points, creating a kind of private network connecting an office or home to a doctor's office. A patient might be hooked up to a blood pressure or blood glucose monitor for near-continuous testing. Information could be sent directly to the medical professional.

Using nanotechnology, throat swabs could be run to determine if the patient has the latest version of the flu, for example, without him or her being in a waiting room, potentially infecting other people. Big data analytics could help doctors determine which course of treatment would be the most effective based on someone's genetic makeup.

So what is the holdup for some of these advancements? For starters, the equipment at end points, like a blood pressure machine, doesn't necessarily interoperate. While cable can't generally make the changes to these devices, what the industry can do is use its mass to encourage progress. "If we (can say), 'We expect to get 50,000 (devices) hooked up in the first year,' this starts providing a business case to solve problems. (Operators) can go and work with the device manufacturers who are doing this," Fricklas said.

There are some privacy issues associated with personalized medicine. The requests across populations must be made in such a way that they cannot be correlated down to an individual person, Fricklas said. "This is a whole new class of services for private aggregated data. It is starting to happen now. It may be that when (you) deliver data to the (utility) about how people are using energy, (you) don't want to know how many devices are in a (specific) room. That is something that is kept private."

There will be opportunities for people to get in to the large compute business. A lot of the MSOs have some sort of cloud services operation, so are situated to deal with a heavy use of data center resources. "Cloud services won't look a whole lot different ... bandwidth or compute on demand. There is nothing magic about that," Fricklas said.

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