Getting Meaningful Use with Speed of Light

Getting Meaningful Use with Speed of Light

By Kelly Dyer, President/CEO – Indiana Fiber Network (IFN)

Meaningful Use has implications for almost everyone in healthcare today, just as Speed of Light has implications and limitations to anyone in the telecommunications field.  Excusing the pun on Speed of Light, let’s appreciate how fiber communications is helping Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) achieve Meaningful Use with improved patient care via the support of Health Information Technology applications.  Fiber services enable hospitals and health professionals with the capability to exchange clinical information among providers of care and patient-authorized entities electronically via the high bandwidth fiber connectivity.

Although CAH may continue to deal with cost, staff, and technology challenges, one bright spot is FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) program which supports efforts to expand Health Care Provider (HCP) access to broadband services in rural areas nationally.  IFN’s ownership is comprised of 20 rural local exchange telephone companies throughout the state of Indiana (www.ifncom.com).  There is great progress being made with fiber build-outs in rural areas within the state.  The impact on rural communities is very positive for all stakeholders; including healthcare, education, business and government entities.

HCF has solid, short, and long term benefits.  The program is supporting the formation of state and regional broadband networks linking healthcare providers.  A good local example is the Indiana Telehealth Network (ITN).  One of ITN’s missions is improving the health and well-being of Indiana residents via the utilization of a dedicated broadband health network. With over 24 hospitals and clinics connected, this health network should continue to grow.  Another broader model of rural fiber connectivity is Independent Alliances Telecom Group (INDATEL), which IFN is a founding member.  INDATEL connects a significant amount of network nationally.  INDATEL currently covers 24 states.  It collectively has 70,000 route miles of fiber connectivity, which has reached into over 5,000 communities and to most rural areas (www.indatelgroup.org).

IFN regularly hears of connectivity and redundancy issues related to Electronic Medical Record (EMR) applications and Picture Archiving Communications Systems (PACS).  Higher fiber bandwidth is needed for delivery of radiology images for clinical diagnosis in minutes vs. hours when delivery information between distant locations.  Health Information Applications continue to push and require greater fiber bandwidth.  As rural fiber build-outs continue, the distance problem for CAHs servicing rural areas become less of an issue.

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