Texas launches health network
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Aug 12, 2002
Texas Health Alert Network
Calling it a "work in progress," Texas has launched a statewide electronic
health communications network that so far connects 64 public health organizations
in an effort to improve surveillance and reporting of infectious diseases
and possible bioterrorist attacks.
The state's Health Alert Network (HAN), in development for three years,
is among the first such system in the nation to be launched, state health
officials said in an Aug. 9 teleconference sponsored by Dell Computer Corp.,
which supplied much of the hardware.
"Hours and days could mean the difference between 10 and tens of thousands
of casualties," said Michael Mastrangelo, co-founder of Texas HAN.
HAN actually is a nationwide initiative led by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention since 1999 to bolster secure, high-speed, two-way
communication among the federal government and states about emerging infectious
diseases, environmental health dangers, potential bioterrorist attacks as
well as other surveillance and laboratory data.
CDC has provided about $90 million in funding and technical assistance
to more than three dozen state health agencies and metropolitan health departments,
and three centers for public health preparedness to develop their statewide
systems. Health officials have previously said that across the nation, about
10 percent of local public health departments do not have e-mail and up
to 40 percent do not have high-speed Internet access.
Texas HAN began with about $15 million in state funding and portions
of $52 million awarded by the federal government this year, said Wayne Farrell,
district director of the Bell County Public Health District, located in
the central part of the state.
Mastrangelo estimated that about half the local health departments in
Texas didn't have adequate Internet access, defined as continuous access.
Each of the 64 sites, which represent only a part of the state's health
system, is equipped with Dell PowerEdge 500SC servers and up to five Dell
desktop or notebook computers. The network allows sites to maintain their
link via automatic redundant connections if the main high-speed connection
fails, he said.
Eventually the state plans to equip all public health centers, hospitals,
clinics and law enforcement agencies, he said, meaning that 90 percent of
the state population will be covered by the network. However, one challenge
is persuading the state's political leadership to continue investment in
telecommunications infrastructure so the network can grow. Officials said
funding is being sought and studies are being done to connect other sites.
Another major benefit of the state HAN is being able to tap into training
and distance learning. Mastrangelo said there are plans to double the number
of sites with interactive two-way videoconferencing, which stands at 17
now. He said they are working with university medical centers and other
groups to provide content now that they've laid the communications network
He said it might take up to five years before all pieces of the network
are in place.