UAMS Readies $128M High-Speed Network

by Robert Bell  on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 12:00 am  

Better Care, Lower Costs

The network will benefit not only health care providers, but also 22 two-year colleges in the state, as well as Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, all of which will get access to the super-fast network.

But for many rural patients, the network will provide a literal lifeline to health care providers who might be hundreds of miles away.

"I don't know that we can even imagine right now the extent to which broadband will create connections and provide valued service to us," said Paul Halverson, state health officer and director of the Arkansas Department of Health, also a partner on the project.

One of the network's main purposes is to expand telemedicine to rural parts of the state, allowing patients and caregivers in those areas to access the expertise of specialists through high-quality, two-way video and lightning-fast access to large files and images.

Those applications just aren't possible on the type of Internet connections available in many remote areas, said Dr. Curtis Lowery, who led the grant-writing process. Lowery created the UAMS Center for Distance Health and is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 

While the network will improve health care results for patients, it also has significant potential to lower costs.

"I think as health care reform continues, whether the affordable health care act goes through - which I think that it will - or not, we're going to have to do something about health care. It's too expensive," Lowery said. "And one of the ways that we should be approaching health care is: What works and what doesn't work? What's necessary and what's not necessary?"

Telemedicine is one way to reduce a lot of unnecessary expenditures, Lowery said.

"Sometimes we get patients referred that shouldn't be referred, that could stay and manage in their local environment," he said. "And sometimes patients should be referred that aren't referred or are referred later than they should be."

Another scenario that can increase costs is patient transfers from emergency rooms and nursing homes to other facilities.

"ER to ER transports are often very costly," he said.



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