With a click of a mouse and several quick keystrokes, doctors in Louisiana’s rural hospitals will soon have instant access to a patient’s medical information if it is stored electronically.
Through a $15.9 million grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, 109 not-for-profit hospitals in the state will gain high-speed digital connections to transport medical information.
This technology couples geostationary satellite communication technologies with access to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI.) LONI is a high-speed, fiber optic network that connects supercomputing resources throughout the state, allowing computation speeds greater than 1,000 times the rate previously possible and enabling greater connectivity and faster collaboration.
The grant provides funding for the participating hospitals to upgrade their network connections so they can connect to LONI, which will provide them with an unprecedented ability to share information. The FCC grant will provide LDH with $5.3 million per year for three years to assist hospitals with purchasing the hardware and software necessary for these digital connections.
This will be especially important in the event of another disaster like Hurricane Katrina because doctors in one part of the state can instantly transmit patient information to another part of the state. If patients evacuate without taking along their medical information, as many did during Katrina, the network connections will allow doctors to continue current courses of treatment and access patients’ previous medical histories.
“Although we have recognized the importance of electronic health information for the past four years, Hurricane Katrina clearly demonstrated that paper records are not sufficient, and that there is tremendous value in ensuring that a patient’s record is easily accessible by anyone providing care,” said Dr. Roxane Townsend, LDH secretary.
Today, a doctor or hospital treating a new patient (someone from another community, for example) with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, faces obstacles in getting the necessary health information for the patient.
“Medical records typically remain in a folder in an office somewhere,” explained Dr. Townsend. “When a patient moves or travels and needs care, someone has to make telephone calls to seek information about medical histories and medications. This is time consuming and not always successful.”
The electronic network this grant creates will allow doctors to transmit patient information digitally in microseconds instead of hours or days.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she believes Louisiana’s progress over the past two years in implementing electronic medical records was a key factor in the FCC selecting Louisiana for the grant.
“The grant request built upon the work that had already been underway,” Blanco said. “I feel strongly that because Louisiana has been recognized as a national leader in digital health information, the FCC was confident that we had the necessary building blocks in place to complete this electronic information-sharing network.”
Blanco also said this grant was possible because of the state’s commitment to LONI and the resulting advancements in digital technology and high-speed networking that make Louisiana one of the most well-connected places in the world. During her administration, Gov. Blanco has pledged $40 million throughout a 10-year period for the development and support of LONI.
“We have the technology infrastructure in place to allow for the high-speed transmission of data. This grant is evidence that our federal partners have recognized the progress Louisiana has made in being a leader in the use of digital technology,” Blanco said.
LONI Executive Director Charlie McMahon said this grant represents a collaboration among different Louisiana agencies to improve services for the state’s citizens.
“This grant will drastically improve health care delivery in our state, particularly for rural and medically underserved areas, and this endeavor would not be possible without the state and the governor’s commitment to building LONI,” McMahon said. “This grant will demonstrate that Louisiana is not only leading the way for a change, but that we are on the cutting edge of the latest technology. It is definitely a win for all of us.”