Case Study: Iowa Health System's Pursuit of Interoperability & Telehealth

At a time when telehealth, telemedicine, interoperability and health information exchanges are garnering a great deal of interest in the healthcare industry, Iowa Health System in West Des Moines seems to be ahead of the curve.

Between 2007 and 2010, Iowa Health was able to establish an electronic information network, offering the system an opportunity to improve efficiency and lower costs by providing high-speed connections and utilizing technology to facilitate interoperability and information sharing among its hospitals and clinics.

"Iowa Health was ahead of the industry when it came to recognizing that anything you do from a healthcare information technology perspective starts with a robust network. The network [Iowa Health has] is a strategic benefit in that [the system doesn't] have to go out and bring in large telecommunication carriers to provide some of the services [it] wants to provide," says Rodney Brown, executive director of HealthNet connect, HNc Services and BroadNet connect for Iowa Health System.

Here, Mr. Brown discusses Iowa Health System's journey to be one of the few health systems that owns and operates a robust network with HIE, interoperability and telehealth capabilities.

HealthNet connect
HealthNet connect was formed after Iowa Health System received a federal rural healthcare pilot program grant. According to Mr. Brown, while Iowa Health System was not the only organization to receive this federal aid, it was able to leverage the grant with the purchase of a robust fiber optic network it had made a few years earlier. That network gave Iowa Health System a foundation on which to build HealthNet connect. The highly secure fiber network runs through the state of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and parts of Colorado with the ability to extend trough the Midwest and beyond.

"At first, the fiber optic network was used to connect hospitals that were part of Iowa Health System, but a year or two later, the grant opportunity came up. Iowa Health System took advantage of the rural healthcare pilot program to access grant funds and expanded the network with clinics and hospitals outside of Iowa Health System," says Mr. Brown.

Currently, 96 hospitals and clinics are connected to HealthNet connect and have the ability to communicate and exchange information securely with each other. Some providers are utilizing the network for telehealth services, which is an initiative that HealthNet connect will expand in 2013. According to Mr. Brown, HealthNet connect is self-sustainable and any future telehealth service growth would be funded with a mixture of grants, self-funding from HealthNet connect and the members of the network.

BroadNet connect
While not specific to healthcare services, BroadNet connect is another subsidiary of Iowa Health System that utilizes the fiber optic network as a strategic benefit for connectivity and capacity and generating new business by offering value added services over the network.

In 2010, Iowa Health System received a broadband technology opportunity grant also known as a BTOP grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the United States Department of Commerce. According to Mr. Brown, the grant allowed Iowa Health System to expand and upgrade the fiber optic network, giving it the bandwidth to include organizations outside of healthcare.

"We created BroadNet connect to introduce community anchor institutions and businesses to the network. A variety of connections are made on the network, and a variety of services such as manage hosting, unified communications and telepresence are offered over the network. Even schools and municipals can and do use these services," says Mr. Brown.

In the past few years, the prevalence of health IT in healthcare organizations has grown drastically. With increasing clarity around telehealth and telemedicine as well as federal initiatives for electronic medical records and HIEs, much of the healthcare industry is embracing health IT and the benefits of information exchange. Organizations such as HealthNet connect are great examples of pursuing health IT to benefit patients as well as communities in the face of an evolving healthcare industry.

More Articles on Telehealth and HIT Initiatives:

3 Points of Clarity in Telehealth Spur Adoption, Expansion
Telemedicine Fills Physician Recruitment Gaps at Nantucket Cottage Hospital
FCC Announces up to $400M in Funding to Create, Expand Telemedicine Networks

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