Sunday, October 18, 2009

Improving Networks

The Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world provides service to hospitals and health clinics throughout Ontario province. OTN was created in 2006 by the merger of CareConnect (Eastern Ontario), NORTH Network (Central & Northern Ontario), and VideoCare (Southwestern Ontario). The merger was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) and Canada Health Infoway.

OTN with more than 2,700 healthcare professionals delivers care to over 660 sites across the province. In 2008 and 2009, 53,745 clinical consultations and more than 12,000 education and training events in 2008 were delivered.

OTN connects 300 users with the Polycom visual communication solution, but since OTN grows by 20 to 40 percent a year, there are still 150,000 users that could still be connected. There are plans to add thousands of additional sites next year, and officials anticipate that the expanded network will also expand the applications for telehealth.

The telehealth technologies used provide real-time consultations for specialists at large hospitals with their patients at community health centers, connects stroke neurologists to emergency rooms, provides for mental health evaluations and treatment, and cares for inmates in correctional facilities.

In addition to funding from the Province, Canada Health Infoway is providing OTN with funds to help develop a variety of special projects with the work to be further supported by eHealth Ontario. OTN also partners with the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Telemedicine Program to provide regional broadband network services directed by the Keewaytinook Ohimakanak Telehealth Tribal Council.

In West Virginia, a high tech link between healthcare providers in the greater Huntington region and those in rural McDowell County will soon develop a new project called the “Metro Fiber Build” project. Marshall University and the West Virginia Telehealth Alliance are developing the project to provide an advanced broadband interconnection with Marshall University, Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, St. Mary’s Medical Center, and Cabell-Huntington Hospital.

This project is the first in a statewide initiative to facilitate a health network infrastructure across the state to improve broadband connectivity and advance telehealth capabilities for nearly 300 eligible rural hospitals and rural clinics.

The project will expand existing telemedicine links with the Tug River Health Association in McDowell Country which will be able to access remotely physicians and specialists from each of the three Huntington facilities. The agency operates health clinics in Gary, Northfork, and Welch. Once the Huntington “Metro Fiber Build” is complete, Tug River will be able to use specialists through a single connection point at their Huntington Hospital, St. Mary’s Medical Center, as well as Marshall University.

Specifically Lincoln Primary Care in Lincoln County and Tug River will be able to access physicians and specialists remotely at each of the facilities. Both Lincoln Primary and Tug Valley Health have plans to expand their existing broadband connectivity as part of a second RFP that currently is being prepared.

This project is being funded with an $8.4 million award from the FCC through its Rural Healthcare Pilot Program with the state matching with $1 million and an additional 15 percent in matching funds from the participants in the project. The network is projected to cost $550,000 with an additional $250,000 for equipment.