Broadband Initiative To Link Colorado Hospitals

Clinicians in 400 rural healthcare facilities will be able to tap expertise at larger medical centers.

A Colorado telehealth initiative will link more than 400 non-profit hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities to a broadband network, allowing millions of patients in this predominately rural state to access medical expertise remotely.

The new Colorado Teleheath Network is being managed by the Colorado Hospital Association and Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council. The project is being funded by awards totaling $9.8 million from the Federal Communications Commission to CHA and CBHC.

While Colorado currently has "multiuse" broadband in the state, most healthcare providers in rural communities typically don't have access to the network, said Sharon Montgomery, VP of Qwest Government and Education Solutions.

The project will connect 400 non-profits healthcare providers to the network via Qwest metropolitan area network (MAN) technology, which leverages Ethernet and optical technologies to provide low cost, scalable and secure bandwidth, says Montgomery. Qwest MOE, the brand name for Qwest's offering, enables local area network (LAN)-to-LAN connectivity between two or more customer locations within a metro area.

For the telehealth initiative, Qwest will connect local healthcare campuses and facilities to other, geographically dispersed, healthcare campuses and facilities using Ethernet over a regional fiber optic network, said Qwest.

That's a big improvement for rural, non-profit healthcare providers that "touch every part of the state," said Summer. . A majority of the people living in Colorado, which has a population of nearly 5 million, will benefit from the initiative because so much of the state is rural, said Summer.

Under federal award rules, only non-profit healthcare organizations--which make up about 80% of Colorado's healthcare providers--are eligible for the FCC-funded network links, said Steven Summer, CHA president and CEO.

Most for-profit healthcare providers--which makes up between 10% and 20% of Colorado hospitals, are already connected to broadband, said Summer.

But for the approximately 400 non-profit providers in rural communities, most have been relying on "slow Internet access, snail mail and patients driving" themselves and a copy of their records to share medical information and collaborate with specialists from medical centers in metro regions of the state, such as Denver and Boulder, he said.

The new broadband links will allow doctors in rural hospitals to send large medical digital images, like X-rays and ultrasounds, to other radiologists and other specialists for diagnosis and second opinions, said Summer.

Also, the broadband will allow smaller rural hospitals' intensive care units to tap the expertise of intensivists at other hospitals in larger cities, for example, says Summer. Those intensivists-- physicians who specialize in the care of critically ill patients-- can assist doctors in remote rural hospitals provide care to patients. Through broadband connections, the remote doctors can help monitor patients too sick to transfer, he says. "Some of these larger medical centers are hundreds of miles, many hours away," said Summer.

Behavioral health professionals and their patients will also be linked into the network for remote consultations and counseling using video-conferencing and other technologies, said Summer.

Approximately 70% of the rural healthcare providers will be linked into the network over the next seven months, with the rest by end of 2010, said Montgomery.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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