Veterans Affairs awards initial pacts for high-speed network

The Department of Veterans Affairs last month entered the final phase of a $300 million-plus project to supply health care centers with a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure.

The emerging telecommunications system called the Telecommunications Infrastructure Project (TIP) will replace by 2000 the VA's mixed bag of wires cables and lines with a modern system that physicians and hospital administrators can use to rapidly transmit patient records financial information and medical images and X-rays.

"It's going to bring all facilities up to a minimum level nationally " said Ernest Bundy the VA's national TIP manager. "[The] VA now is going to have the underlying infrastructure to do all the applications that they have been touting over the years."

In October the VA wrapped up the third phase of the telecommunications project a survey of the telecommunications requirements that the hundreds of VA health care units have.

Under the first phase which began in June 1996 the VA installed routers and other equipment for T-1 access. In the second phase of TIP the VA installed Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange communications software nationwide.

The VA now plans to enter the acquisition and execution phase of the project. In preparation for building the telecommunications network the VA has awarded contracts to 21 small businesses to provide some of the services needed to install high-speed lines and fiber-optic cables at eight of the VA's 22 health networks. The networks are known as Veterans Integrated Service Networks. Each VISN is expected to spend $3 million through these contracts. The VISNs are not limited to buying off of these contracts.

The VA created the VISNs in 1995 to encourage a closer working relationship between the agency's far-flung medical care centers which consist of more than 170 medical centers nearly 400 outpatient community and outreach clinics more than 100 nursing homes and another 40 care centers. But VA officials said to make the VISNs operate efficiently requires fast easy standardized telecommunications. Under TIP each VISN will be able to buy off other contracts to get the telecom services and equipment it needs Bundy said.

"It's an avenue where [the VA] can start getting into telemedicine and everything else " said Lorin Beehler vice president for marketing and business development for Horizon Data Corp. Reston Va. one of the vendors working on TIP.

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