Public and private partnerships across the Carolinas and Georgia will receive millions of dollars in federal funds to set up high-speed wireless networks designed for telemedicine and electronic health records.
The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday that more than $400 million will be spent over three years to help create state-wide and regional healthcare networks in 42 states and three U.S. territories.
Each of the networks are to be connected to national high-speed infrastructure such as Internet 2 and the National Lambda Rail.
“This is huge,” said Jane Patterson, who runs the e-NC program which is tasked with helping spread broadband access across North Carolina. “This is critical. It will provide better quality of healthcare for people, especially in rural areas, and connect patients with doctors. It also will help spread access to telemedicine.”
e-NC will help deploy one of the projects covering counties outside the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County area.
Other projects in North Carolina will be funded in the western and eastern parts of the state.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who is a native of North Carolina, came to the state to announce the Charlotte area and Greenville area programs.
“Since becoming chairman, I have made broadband deployment the Commission’s top priority,” Martin said inn a statement. “Broadband technology is a key driver of economic growth. The ability to share increasing amounts of information at greater and greater speeds, increases productivity, facilitates interstate commerce, and helps drive innovation. But perhaps most important, broadband has the potential to affect almost every aspect of our lives – from where and when we work to how we educate our children. In particular, it is increasingly changing the way healthcare is delivered and received.”
In remarks delivered in Concord, Martin told the audience he grew up in a rural area near Charlotte and suffered with severe asthma. His access to healthcare was limited, he noted.
Telemedicine and electronic health records have long been touted as means of making access to leading-edge healthcare available to more people.
Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC, said the program will help rural Americans receive better healthcare.
“It is sad but true that rural America lags the rest of the country in access to first-rate health care,” he explained. “That’s bad news for so prosperous a nation as ours.
“This pilot program creatively pushes the envelope in an effort to spur the development of telemedicine programs to better serve rural America. Having seen first-hand the difference that telemedicine and telehealth can have on the well-being of our citizens who live hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital and are injured or just need to cure a child’s ear infection, telemedicine can be life-altering, and sometimes even life-saving.”
The projects funded in the Carolinas and Georgia as listed by the FCC include:
North Carolina Telehealth Network — Regional network will connect approximately 16 health care facilities in 11 counties with patients in their homes, at work, and on the move to provide home monitoring, personal health records, personalized health messaging and prescription drug use compliance. Maximum support: $6,023,985.
Western Carolina University — In collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the university will build a broadband network that will ultimately connect the university’s health care facilities to community health care facilities serving residence on the reservation and in outlying areas. Approximately 224 facilities will be served at speeds ranging from 10 Mbps Ethernet connections to 100 Mbps shared Internet2 service. Maximum support: $3,596,290
Albemarle Network Telemedicine Initiative (North Carolina) – A new network will provide secured information exchange across approximately 65 facilities, enabling computerized physician orders for medical procedures, discharges, transfers, and referrals. Maximum support: $1,583,076.
University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina – Network will add approximately 16 mostly rural healthcare facilities in 12 counties to an existing fiber ring to serve a very rural population suffering from a significantly higher incidence of chronic disease than the state and national averages. Provides connection with Internet2. Maximum support: $960,939
Palmetto State Providers Network (South Carolina) – Connects four rural and underserved regions to a fiber optic backbone being developed in the state and Internet2. Network will connect approximately 58 facilities at speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps. Maximum support: $7,944,950.
Bacon County Health Services, Inc. (Georgia) – A new 1 Gbps network will connect approximately 25 public and non-profit health care facilities in rural and urban locations in Georgia to an existing network, enabling telemedicine services, distance education, research, and effective disaster response. Maximum support: $2,239,580.
Erlanger Health System Rural Health Care Fiber Network (Tennessee, Georgia) – Chattanooga-based non-profit will extend an existing fiber network to deliver patient care, video consultations, data exchange, and a virtual nursery to approximately 11 health care facilities serving residents in sparsely populated regions of southeast Tennessee and smaller areas of northern Georgia, western North Carolina, and northeast Alabama. Maximum support: $2,198,610.
For additional information about the program, see the FCC Web site.