Arkansas e-Link Broadband Network Expands to Fayetteville

A statewide broadband network led by the University of Arkansas at Medical Sciences will begin operations in Fayetteville in November, UAMS officials announced Thursday.

Called Arkansas e-Link, the network connects health care and educational institutions for telemedicine and distance learning. In Fayetteville, it will be based at Washington Regional Medical Center.

Most of the e-Link technology is in place at sites throughout Washington County, and services will begin once personnel at those locations complete training, according to a news release.

The network connects 413 community facilities across the state via high-speed data transmission lines, providing videoconferencing between medical professionals, patients and doctors and the real-time exchange of patient data and readings.

Washington County represents the last of the state's 75 counties to be connected to e-Link. Eleven of the 413 participating facilities are in northwest Arkansas.

"By providing the equipment and bandwidth necessary to make it happen, Arkansas e-Link is connecting patients, physicians and other medical professionals in an expansion of telemedicine the size and scope of which is unprecedented," said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn in the news release. "The project will benefit residents in their daily lives by providing connections to their local hospital, public library, two-year college, emergency services, community health clinic, mental health clinic and other institutions within the network."

The network is funded through a $102 million federal grant awarded to UAMS and partner institutions in August 2010. Another $26 million was matched by those partner facilities.

"Washington Regional, by working with its e-Link partner, has more opportunity to reach out further with its services and boost accessibility in our community," said Washington Regional Medical System CEO Bill Bradley. "Although telemedicine is not new to northwest Arkansas, I'm glad to see this expansion. We can augment and diversify our specialty coverage as well as explore new possibilities."

Other e-Link partners in Washington County include the Arkansas Aging Initiative Schmieding Center for Health Services, the Northwest Region office of the Arkansas Department of Health, the Washington County WIC Unit, Willow Creek Women’s Hospital at Northwest Medical Center, Northwest Medical Center, CHCA Community Clinic, Ozark Guidance Center and Washington Regional Home Health and Hospice.

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. Expanding telemedicine will allow patients and caregivers to access the expertise of specialists through high-quality, two-way video and lightning-fast access to large files and images.

Many of those applications aren't possible on the type of Internet connections available in many remote areas.