Telehealth program in connect mode

Northern New England network aims to save lives, reduce cost
By Bernie Monegain
10:53 AM

Maine-based New England Telehealth Consortium, which is working to link more than 400 healthcare facilities in northern New England to a telecommunications network, recently announced its 125th connection.

"Connecting the 125th healthcare site to the NETC network is a testament to years of planning, designing and building," Jim Rogers, the founder of NETC, said in a press statement. Rogers is also president of ProInfoNet, the company managing the implementation of the NETC network. "From satellites enabling mobile health vans to serve rural Maine to crystal clear long-distance consultations for surgery, NETC is powering a cost-savings healthcare revolution," Rogers added.

Healthcare facilities linking to NETC's network are instantly sharing potentially life-saving information and stand to save millions of dollars in annual technology costs, officials say.

"In healthcare, quality and reliability come with a cost," says Brian Thibeau, president of New England Telehealth Consortium, in a news release. "NETC is affording rural and urban providers quality and reliability at significant savings while enabling healthcare facilities throughout Northern New England to provide patients access to a higher level care."

FairPoint Communications is the largest vendor partner in NETC.

"FairPoint’s network provides flexible and expandable bandwidth and Ethernet-based solutions that NETC needs," said Mike Reed, FairPoint’s Maine state president, in a news release. Since April 2008, FairPoint has invested more than $193 million in the communications infrastructure and technology in northern New England, according to FairPoint executives.

NETC has increased access to the most rural regions of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont by furnishing mobile clinics with satellite technology. Vans equipped with video conferencing, prescription dispensing and electronic health records are enabling the Maine Migrant Health Program to care for workers harvesting crops in Maine’s rural Washington County.

[See also: New telehealth network in the works.]

Along with greater access, NETC is delivering greater savings.

"We transitioned from T1s to NETC and reduced our costs by 75 percent," says Robin Winslow, CEO of Sebasticook Family Doctors. "We reduced redundancies, identified inefficiencies, and increased our speed. And our savings will help us to ramp up to keep compliant with healthcare regulations and data reporting."

In a region with a large elderly population, NETC's innovators are considering ways the consortium's connectivity might help serve New England's seniors and veterans, who are often housebound or must travel great distance to receive the care they need or have earned by serving our nation.

[See also: NETC looks to the stars.]

The New England Telehealth Consortium, a regional group of rural and urban healthcare members, formed in response to the Federal Communications Commissions' Rural Health Care Pilot Program of the Telecom Act of 1996. The Act dedicated funding for aiding rural hospitals, clinics and physicians through advanced telecommunications.