One point which I did not comment on was the possible usage of the Government VPN (gVPN) by the General Practice community and other indepedent healthcare contractors in Ireland. While the gVPN is being used around the country by Government departments and the Health Service Executive, to my knowledge the potential use by contractors, has not been advanced over the past 18 months.
Update: The full article can now be read below.
The Broadband Revolution is coming
Here in County Sligo a couple of weeks ago,
thieves robbed a filling station during the middle of the night. In order to
silence security alarms, the gang cut through fibre optic cables in the station
forecourt. This effectively cut the broadband service for over 1,000 customers
of a local wireless internet provider, as well as causing havoc for telephone
customers that continued long into the weekend.
Believe or not, those 1,000 customers are lucky. Why? In a predominantly
rural catchment area, such Internet providers are often the only source of relatively
cheap broadband connectivity – particularly when these costs are compared to
satellite offerings. Sitting in my office just over 12 months ago, I was still using a slow
dial-up connection. Frustration levels were high.
In the intervening period, things have improved here and around the
country. More telephone exchanges are becoming enabled, community based schemes
are beginning to appear, but most importantly all the providers are beginning
to market more aggressively beyond the early adopters.
Packages that encompass flat-rate telephone rental, calls and Internet
access are being advertised very strongly. Following along behind this – though
way too slowly according to internet advocacy group Ireland Off Line (www.irelandoffline.org) – are the Government with their awareness campaigns advocating the
positive benefits of fast, always-on internet access.
Mobile phones in the final decade of the last century were seen by many
as an optional requirement. Compare that with mobile phone penetration today.
There is no comparison – in the same way the likelihood is that in 5 years time
we will all be saying “how did we manage before broadband?”
Local elected representatives might not often be noted for their
forward thinking, but one particular point being raised by a West of Ireland
councillor struck me by its’ foresight. This particular gentleman made an
analogy which compared the importance of the rural electrification scheme in
the 1950’s with broadband rollout in the modern era.
These analogies with the past were also suggested by a speaker at a
recent technology conference in the United States. He spoke about broadband as
being comparable with the importance of rivers, canals and railways to the 19th
Mind you, the same speaker also described Internet access in the US as
being the “ox in the ditch”, while describing Internet services available in
relatively low-density populations of Canada, Norway and Sweden in glowing
It is probably no accident then that these same countries are ones that
are often referred to in Ireland for their approaches to electronic communication
and how these are utilised by their primary care providers.
The long term view
Comparisons and analogies are easy for technology literate individuals
and business to sagely nod their heads too. To a much larger majority however,
such comparisons are confusing and unclear. Why do I need broadband? What will
it let me do that I cannot do already? It is a fad?
Fad is a strong word to use here. It might be
associated with new services and trends that are hugely popular on the web
today (the MySpace and Bebo phenomena), but never with broadband access itself.
The last 5 few years have shown that the Internet
is a medium which has changed life as we know it, and even then it just
scratches the surface. Healthcare has traditionally had a silo based approach
to software applications for electronic patient records; a large part of this
approach were the traditional high-cost of connectivity and high-speed links.
Of course there were others, but connectivity or lack of would have been a
major limiting factor.
If one takes the view then that low cost, high
bandwidth communication is now available, it changes the way that existing
services are provided, as well as enabling new models to be introduced;
Software that is rented instead of purchased, information backed up securely to
a remote server, x-ray images from the local hospital out-patient department,
laboratory tests results quickly and easily available online.
Some of these services are already available,
some are aspiritional. My assertion would be that all are more successful and
indeed sometimes only possible through broadband adoption.
Sourcing a provider
So where does one start? In terms of sourcing a provider, one of the
best resources available is the one that can be found at the Department of
Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (broadband.gov.ie).
This gives the essential basic details of the package types (download
and upload speeds, contention ratio and cost) as well further details if your
interest is piqued. It also has a useful map feature which allows you to plot
the services that might be available in your locality.
User feedback on many of the various providers can also be found
through online forums or bulletin boards (www.boards.ie is particularly good