Alberta moves images at the speed of life

February 18, 2003

A Canadian province is about to go live with the first ubiquitous high-performance network to deliver high-speed voice, video, and data capabilities throughout an entire political jurisdiction.When completed in 2004, the Alberta SuperNet, a unique

A Canadian province is about to go live with the first ubiquitous high-performance network to deliver high-speed voice, video, and data capabilities throughout an entire political jurisdiction.

When completed in 2004, the Alberta SuperNet, a unique initiative of the provincial government, will have connected every hospital, school, library, and government agency in more than 400 communities to a high-speed broadband fiber-optic network.

The SuperNet includes more than 12,000 kilometers of fiber optic and wireless components. It will make broadband services available to commercial service providers, who will offer competitive services to businesses and residences in rural and urban areas across an expanse roughly twice the size of Texas.

The SuperNet closes the digital divide by creating provincewide gigabit Ethernet connectivity that provides equal access opportunities for rural and urban areas.

"The SuperNet means that isolated communities will actually have ultrahigh-speed access to tertiary-care centers," said Ken Hughes, vice president of Client Integration, Axia SuperNet, manager and operator of the network.

The $300 million SuperNet strengthens the capacity of rural hospitals to perform imaging studies and receive prompt reports. Network capacity is almost unlimited in terms of the amount of data that be moved around, Hughes said.

Under current conditions, a radiologist in rural Alberta travels from remote facility to remote facility doing consultation and interpretation and racking up costs. Once SuperNet implementation is complete, hospital administrators will be able to consolidate radiology interpretation and consultation services.

"For the hospital administrators, that's good news," said Tanneth McBean, R.N., a former Alberta hospital CEO. "You could have a group of radiologists in one city reading and consulting for the whole province."

Provincial consolidation of radiology services could hurt radiologists financially, however.

"We'll see costs per interpretation reduced," McBean said. "Radiologists in some centers are not all that happy about some of these ideas because it hits them directly in the pocketbook."

Wiring Alberta makes the entire province ripe and ready for harvest by PACS vendors, yet PACS sales forces have been scarce in the area.

"We haven't seen any PACS vendors yet, but I'd certainly be up in Alberta hitting everyone for PACS software," McBean said. "That's going to be critical to being able to store and forward and move all these images around."