Computer project to boost HIV/AIDS care in rural Pennsylvania

By Bernie Monegain
10:26 AM

The Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded $45,188 to the Northwest Pennsylvania AIDS Alliance to create a computer network for providers and clients.

The project is deemed one of national significance by the HRSA, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The money will be used to purchase and install hardware and software and configure a network allowing healthcare providers real-time access to the Lab Tracker database, housed on a file server in the central office.

"Northwest Pennsylvania AIDS Alliance received HRSA grant funding for 2001-10, so we are on the mailing list for any additional grant opportunities," said Jody Gift, the alliance's information technology technician, who appliad for and received full federal funding for the project. "When our director, Jeff Curtis, received a notice about the award last September he passed it along to me, noting that they fund only special projects of national significance."

HRSA has awarded $4.5 million in grants to projects across the country, including the alliance's networking grant. The award will be received Sept. 1 and must be used by Aug. 30, 2010.

"This is something we have really wanted to do for a while," said Gift. "We were in the process of trying to do this piecemeal, but this grant will make it quicker and easier."

The alliance anticipates having the system operational within a couple of months. Training in the use of the system will be conducted by telephone.

Real-time connection

The new system will make it possible for clinicians to connect in real time from the rural parts of the alliance's service region. Equipment to be purchased includes a new file server, laptop computers, mobile printers, a firewall switch, terminal server licenses and a new hub so that nurses, the medical service coordinator and subcontracted physicians can access the Lab Tracker database remotely in real time.

The alliance has been using Lab Tracker software since 1999. Healthcare providers often must travel to remote locations of northwest Pennsylvania to provide care to patients scattered throughout a large, rural geographic area.

The alliance uses Lab Tracker software installed on a file server in a central office to collect client-level data. The healthcare providers, however, have to synchronize the data from the server to their individual laptops. After providing care to patients at the clinics and returning to the central office, that data has to be synchronized back onto the file server. This has resulted in lost and corrupted data.

Subcontracted physicians currently have no way of accessing patient data in real time. Because of the lack of Internet access in the remote locations, the healthcare providers can't transmit prescriptions electronically.

The Northwest Alliance is a grant-funded program of Clarion University. The alliance, which launched 18 years ago, provides medical case management services, medical care, supportive services and prevention education to those afflicted with or affected by HIV and AIDS. The alliance serves a 13-county region in northwest Pennsylvania.