AHA teams with Darwin on private national network

October 4, 2000

AHA teams with Darwin on private national networkUpstart challenges Internet for healthcare dataConcerned that the nation's healthcare providers may fail to meet growing technology challenges, the American Hospital Association (AHA) has

AHA teams with Darwin on private national network

Upstart challenges Internet for healthcare data

Concerned that the nation's healthcare providers may fail to meet growing technology challenges, the American Hospital Association (AHA) has taken an unusual metamorphic step, transforming itself into a network service provider. By teaming with Darwin Networks, a private networking solutions provider, to offer hospitals and other healthcare-related customers access to a secure, reliable, high-speed data communication network, the AHA hopes to help its 5000 member institutions begin to address HIPAA data security requirements.

If the AHA is right, hospitals using the private AHA-Darwin network rather than the Internet will be better equipped to rapidly and safely exchange large digital images (MRI, CT, and x-ray), transfer electronic medical records, conduct videoconferences and interactive consults, and manage administrative data (billing, claims, payroll, and accounts receivable).

"This relationship will provide a powerful tool in the evolution of how healthcare operates in the future," said AHA president Dick Davidson. "We want to be in a position to offer healthcare organizations the resources that allow them to succeed in today's digital environment. The first step is to build the secure network that will allow that to happen."

The firms will comarket and copromote their network offering. While costs for members who sign up will be determined by the services and bandwidth desired, getting connected requires only a monthly subscription fee, no up-front capital investment.

Darwin Networks, based in Louisville, KY, offers end-to-end private networking through partnerships with telecommunications carriers such as AT&T, WorldCom, and Williams Communications and private peering agreements. Data packets transmitted between points on one of Darwin's networks travel separately from information on the public Internet and thus avoid the security risks inherent in a shared network. Another benefit is the "tagging" of critical data, which enables important information to be transmitted at a higher priority than noncritical information.

While the AHA move may have merit, some industry experts aren't so quick to abandon the Internet. One concern is the long-term cost of deployment, something not clear at this point. Successful data transmission models are those that require no greater effort than an online sign-up, according to Jim Bloedau, president of Information Advantage Group, a San Francisco e-health consulting firm specializing in Internet solutions.

"If Darwin requires firewall configuration at every site, it's got problems," he said. "Secure Internet services can bypass this expensive problem."

A number of firms have launched Internet HIPAA-readiness solutions this year, including Hilgraeve, a Michigan data communications software firm. The company claims that its HyperSend product, introduced in August, is the first free, secure Internet delivery service with no file-size restrictions--a highly attractive feature for radiologists and other imaging professionals.

According to Bloedau, the new AHA scheme sounds like a private extranet--an old solution that, while it still has its place, must compete with rapidly advancing streaming technology developed specifically for the Internet.

"The nice part of having a strong private backbone such as this is the performance and bandwidth for real-time viewing of streamed media," he said. "It's the bandwidth and security that matter here."

Still, Bloedau sees no reason not to look toward Internet advancements rather than incurring the cost of an extra/intranet. Transmission of digital data that is not necessarily time-critical can travel the Internet securely for substantially less money, he said.