In emergency situations, there’s no time to lose. The results of patient tests and exams must be reviewed by the proper specialists, and treatment must begin quickly. But what if the patient is in a rural hospital and the specialist is many miles away?
The Utah Telehealth Network of the University of Utah seeks to bridge this gap by linking hospitals, clinics and health depart-ments. Its mission is to expand access to health care services and resources through innovative application of technology, serving health care providers, patients and the citizens of the State of Utah. The United Telehealth Network and its partners:
Patients Benefit from Shared Resources
Deb LaMarche, Program Manager of the Utah Telehealth Network, gives this example, “In the case of emergency stroke care, patients need treatment within three hours; there’s often no opportunity to transport rural patients to a bigger facility in time. That’s why the United Telehealth Network offers a telestroke program. If a patient in a rural hospital appears to have had a stroke, it automatically triggers a CAT scan, which is sent to the University of Utah. A radiologist at U of U then dials into a video conference with the ER staff at the rural hos-pital, and they discuss the patient exam and whether the patient should receive clot-busting medication. Not all stroke patients are good candidates for this medication, but when it’s used correctly, it greatly improves survival rates and shortens recovery times.”
The ability to rapidly transmit CAT scans and other imaging is critical in Utah, as many of the smaller rural hospitals don’t have a full-time radiologist on staff. By using the Internet, the Utah Telehealth Network helps ensure that patients can get the care they need, when they need it.
These programs put a burgeoning demand on the network in terms of speed, reliability and redundancy. Explains LaMarche, “We realized years ago that T-1 lines would not be sufficient to meet our growing bandwidth requirements in the future. Several years ago, the Utah Telehealth Network submitted a grant proposal to the Federal Communications Commission to seek funds through the Rural Health Care Pilot Program (RHCPP). This program dedicated over $417 million for the construction of 69 statewide or regional broadband telehealth networks in 42 states and three U.S. territories. The investment stems from the belief that a broadband network that connects multiple health care providers, including a significant number in rural areas, would bring those benefits to those areas of the country where the need for those benefits is most acute.
Frontier Ethernet Solutions Will Bring High Speed Broadband
The Utah Telehealth Network was eventually awarded a RHCPP grant of $9.8 million to pay for one-time infrastructure costs for an Ethernet Network in southeast Utah. LaMarche recalls, “To gather information needed for the grant application, Utah Telehealth Network initiated an exhaustive RFP process involv-ing vendors including Frontier. We greatly appreciated how Frontier helped educate us about the benefits and availability of high speed broadband as well as what infrastructure possibilities were available.”
Utah Telehealth Network made awards to the vendors selected for the Ethernet Network and Frontier was one of them.
The Ethernet network provides Utah Telehealth Network broad-band speeds 10 to 20 times faster. “We’ll be able to transmit radiology images in a minute or two, instead of the 20 or 30 minutes it used to take,” notes LaMarche. Another important issue is the increased use of high definition in telemedicine to provide better quality images. “High definition images take eight times the bandwidth, and Frontier Ethernet can accommodate this, leading to better patient diagnosis and treatment. It enables the Utah Telehealth Network enough bandwidth for high-speed access to resources such as pharmacy databases, electronic patient records and medical journal articles. This is especially important for rural health care providers,” she adds.
Regarding the relationship between the Utah Telehealth Network and Frontier, LaMarche says, “Frontier is great to work with. They’ve been quick to share their network diagrams and future plans with us, and have always been very responsive when we’ve had questions. We anticipate working with Frontier for a long time. Ethernet gives us scalability, so as our bandwidth needs continue to increase, Frontier can accommodate this growth.”