The state is linking the hospitals to its highspeed network so that they can practice telehealth initiatives
Illinois is giving its smallest hospitals a boost that will provide the
institutions with high-speed Internet access now and the infrastructure
to eventually practice telemedicine.
The governor recently announced that 10 hospitals would share $450,000 to
establish telemedicine capabilities. Telemedicine enables doctors and specialists
at bigger, faraway hospitals to consult on cases at rural facilities though
The grants will cover computers, videoconferencing equipment, infrastructure
and initial telecommunications charges as well as training for hospital
workers. The hospitals will be linked with the Illinois Century Network,
a statewide, high-speed telecommunications system created in 1999 to integrate
and expand data, voice and video communications among schools and libraries.
A handful of Illinois hospitals already have telemedicine capabilities,
but through expensive and limiting T1 lines. With those lines, a hospital
can't communicate with another one unless they run a cable straight to it.
The new network, however, eliminates the need for those point-to-point connections,
something the state hopes will encourage more hospitals to join, thereby
promoting more extensive telemedicine practice.
But because no big-city hospitals are as yet connected to the network, the
small hospitals, for now, will be able to use the network privileges and
equipment to beef up their in-house systems and for distance learning.
"There are so many benefits to the network — telemedicine is just one,''
said Mary Ring, chief of the state's Center for Rural Health.
The Illinois Department of Public Health chose hospitals for the program
that have fewer than 15 beds and patient stays that average fewer than four
days. Nine hospitals will receive more than $45,000, and one hospital received
about $30,000. Ring said the plan is to bring another seven or eight hospitals
onto the network by the end of the year.
To enable hospitals to participate in telemedicine, the state will also
allow larger nonprofit hospitals to join the network at their own expense.
Some have already expressed interest, Ring said.
Other states with isolated areas, including Oklahoma, Iowa, California,
Texas, Louisiana, Hawaii, Maine and Alaska, have telehealth systems in place.
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