Broadband connects hospitals & GPs

Broadband connects hospitals & GPs

Kalgoorlie Base Hospital, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and GP practices in the remote Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia can now communicate thanks to a new multiservice broadband network. Sue Cartledge reports.

The network will connect health service providers over an area the size of the UK and France combined, and is funded through the Department of Health and Ageing under the Federal Government’s Broadband for Health program. The aim of Broadband for Health is to provide GPs in rural and remote areas with access to broadband technology, which will provide the infrastructure to support a range of health care services.

To demonstrate the actual value gained from broadband connectivity, The Eastern Goldfields Regional Reference Site (EGRRS)project was implemented to test, measure, and demonstrate the benefits of health care providers having high-speed, continuous, higher-quality broadband connectivity. Centred on Kalgoorlie-Base Hospital, EGRRS enables GPs, local specialists, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), community nurses, radiology and pathology services, the local division of general practice, and regional and district hospitals to use high cost, high value services like videoconferencing and long distance phone calls at the cost of a local call, plus encrypted emails, high speed internet, and access to e-business applications such as online payments and online access to HIC. Later this year, the reference site will be enlarged to include pharmacies, aged care facilities, and rural clinical schools.

Basically, the network is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), the Health IP VPN. Using IP technology supplied by IP Systems, the Health IP VPN provides a secure, high speed, continuously available broadband service, enabling secure connectivity for phone, data and video applications. These will be used for messaging diagnostic results and discharge summaries between GPs, hospitals and pathologists/imaging providers, Voice over IP phone calls for teleconferencing, and Video over IP for videoconferencing.

The project went live in April, and was a technical success with no problems encountered during the phase 1 rollout. “Given that success, for a project of this size and complexity, I cannot foresee any problem with future rollouts and application installations,” says Dr Andrew Siegmund, General Practice Project Manager for Kalgoorlie Base Hospital.

“An important part in this project is to ensure that it exists beyond the 12 month funded period by the DoHA, and given the response I have seen from all participants I feel that it will not be a problem. Obviously one key feature to its prolonged success is the type of applications that we run on the VPN and the usefulness of them to the day to day work within a GP practice. The EGRRS project is beginning to succeed at a high level and achieve what will eventually become the gold standard for health care IT in Australia.”

“IP Systems is the leading Australian provider of multiservice communications networks and integrated applications engineered for security and performance,” says Andrew Cox, IP Systems’ Marketing Director. “We are excited to be able to help a community of doctors and healthcare providers speak face to face and share confidential information without worrying about usage charges. This is a powerful way to keep people connected and freed from isolation.”

IP Systems uses Cisco technology and is one of Cisco’s top one per cent service providers worldwide. Access to the EGGRS network is available by linking to major terrestial networks, and two-way satellite access is provided to remote sites for all services, including voice and videoconferencing.

Broadband for Health will operate over three years from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2007. The EGGRS project has funding for 12 months, after which individual eligible participants will be able to apply for support under the Broadband for Health. DOHA has negotiated reduced service costs with the provider for participants for the second and third years of the project.

EGRRS is being evaluated by an independent consultancy. The evaluation will explore the benefit to the region of the broadband infrastructure enabling providers to better engage with initiatives such as HIC Online and HealthConnect.

Qualified services

ISPs servicing the region were invited to provide Qualified Services under the Broadband for Health program. The base service required by ISPs to provide business grade broadband as part of a Qualified Service includes:

  • 512/256 upwards (or 512/192 for satellite);
  • network firewall service;
  • antispam;
  • antivirus;
  • email service;
  • generous download allowance (options of 3, 6 and 10 Gb);
  • professional installation to the ethernet point;
  • 24 x 7 support; and
  • all hardware up to and including ethernet point.
    GPs, ACCHS and pharmacies may choose to purchase additional services from their provider.
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