Thanks to ever-improving technology, an impressive 96 percent of the cell towers in the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey remained functional, enabling weather correspondents to provide continuous “on the scene” updates—a vast improvement over the limited coverage provided by satellites in the past. This upgrade in wireless technology has significant ramifications for mobile health (mHealth); if meteorologists can use wireless connections consistently and reliably, then so can telemedicine providers.
The wireless carriers worked tirelessly to minimize disruptions to cellular service, starting with preparations made before Harvey arrived. Backup generators were topped off with fuel at cell sites, refueling trucks were staged at predetermined sites, and portable cell towers were made ready to be deployed to replace heavily damaged permanent cell towers. After the hurricane passed through, the carriers deployed drones to assess damage to cell towers—a safer, faster, and more thorough method than sending crews. Other changes made the wireless networks more resilient, with or without a storm. For instance, small cell technology reduced the size of cell sites, allowing traffic to be handed off more easily to undamaged sites.
All of these efforts ensured that displaced residents and emergency responders experienced little interruption in service in the aftermath of the hurricane. After all, cellular calls only need a 3G connection, rather than the broadband 4G connection currently favored in most urban areas.
Similarly, any mHealth system that functions reliably on a 3G network, such as swyMed’s DOT Telemedicine Backpack, can remain operational in such an environment. Unfortunately, most telemedicine platforms require a broadband connection. The DOT Telemedicine Backpack uses patented technology to deliver a high-quality video telemedicine visit so medical professionals can treat patients anywhere, even if a broadband connection isn’t available.
The success of the wireless carriers in maintaining 3G service during Hurricane Harvey’s recovery efforts is exciting because if the networks are stable enough to support a phone call or weather update, then they’re stable enough to support a telemedicine encounter with the DOT Telemedicine Backpack. In emergency relief efforts, having immediate access to healthcare providers makes a huge difference for victims and workers alike.