Massive Southwest telehealth grid promises benefits for teleradiology

April 9, 2008

A new broadband telehealth network being designed will connect more than 500 sites across seven southwestern states, providing an improved teleradiology platform to support clinics and hospitals in remote locations throughout the region.

A new broadband telehealth network being designed will connect more than 500 sites across seven southwestern states, providing an improved teleradiology platform to support clinics and hospitals in remote locations throughout the region.

"The Southwest Telehealth Access Grid promises to bring access to critical imaging services in a timely, effective, and efficient manner, using better high-speed broadband connectivity," said Dr. Dale C. Alverson, medical director of the University of New Mexico's Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research.

UNM's Health Sciences Center recently received a grant of $15.5 million from the Federal Communications Commission to design and deploy the grid. The Southwest grid is one of 69 broadband initiatives funded nationwide by the FCC under a $417 million 42-state Rural Health Care Pilot Program. Teleradiology will benefit from most schemes.

The $4.7 million Heartland Unified Broadband Network, for example, will connect 180 facilities to a fiber-optic DS3 44.7 Mbps-capacity line, enhancing the quality of teleradiology and distance education services in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

The Southwest grid will integrate high-speed national backbones of Internet2 and the National Lambda Rail to enable rapid transmission of digital images within New Mexico, Arizona, and Indian Health Services sites in Colorado, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, Alverson said.

The improved network capacity will support important radiological components for acute care such as stroke rescue, cardiovascular imaging and ultrasound assessment, fetal ultrasound, and a host of diagnostic and research initiatives in which teleradiology plays a significant role, Alverson said.

"The grid will support better day-to-day teleradiology and telemedicine transactions among the participating agencies and provide a system that can be quickly transitioned during emergencies to support high-priority digital traffic in the event of disasters," Alverson said.

The Albuquerque area Indian Health Service, for instance, serves nearly 90,000 rural residents from southern Colorado to El Paso and has outgrown its current telemedicine infrastructure. The new grid will allow the Southwest IHS to offer not only an improved teleradiology platform but also tele-ophthlamology, telepsychology, and over 50 other telemedicine services. The grid will also offer training and Internet reference materials to providers in the widely scattered IHS system.

The project is currently in the organizational phase, bringing together participating public and private stakeholders with the plan to submit the initial requests for FCC funding by May.

"The anticipated network design, modeling, and build-out are expected to take a total of three years," Alverson said.