In less than two years, a high-speed, safe and secure wireless and fiber-optic health care network will have the capability of serving almost 2 million Iowans, 650,000 households and 134,000 businesses in the state.
It will open the way to offer tele-health to even the most remote rural areas of the state, into residents' homes and through doctors' offices and clinics. It will make possible the transmission of X-rays and CT-scans to virtually any hospital or medical center in Iowa. And what the nation has been talking about for years now - the electronic health record - will be portable from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital and for patients all over Iowa.
In short, it will mean better care, with the goal being better patient outcomes.
This will be a reality thanks in large part to an announcement made by the White House this month that Iowa Health System, the state's first and largest integrated health system, is receiving a federal grant of $17.7 million. Iowa Health will add in its own $9.9 million to make this happen.
The federal grant funding, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's provisions for broadband Internet projects, is part of $90 million in grants awarded to communities and organizations across the state - all designed to create jobs immediately and lay the foundation for future economic growth.
In Iowa, where more than 40 percent of the population lives in rural areas, the need to eliminate the challenges created by the physical distances between urban and rural health care facilities is great.
Beyond simply connecting health care facilities, however, the new, faster broadband connections will allow Iowa to prepare for the "medical home" model, which is designed to improve care and lower costs while also better informing and involving patients. Developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians and several other prestigious physician organizations, the central idea behind the medical home is for every patient to have a primary care doctor, or "home," who consults with patients to coordinate their care across a wide range of specialties and health care institutions. This includes specialists, home health care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories, community health centers, clinics and other providers.
At Iowa Health System, where our clinical providers and hospitals provide care for about one of every three Iowans, the grant will allow for remote diagnosis, health and patient data exchange, and medical research. These services will be extended to groups outside Iowa Health System through our network we call HealthNet connect, including to independent physicians and organizations and agencies that serve vulnerable populations, such as low-income, unemployed and elderly patients. Those tied to the network directly or indirectly are expected to experience more timely diagnosis, more effective primary, specialty and preventive care, limitation of redundant services and lower-cost treatment. Some of the biggest changes are expected to be seen among homebound and chronically ill patients, who have considerable need for consistent, high-quality, cost-effective care that new technologies will enable.
Iowa Health System recognizes the responsibility that comes with such an investment. The first generation of our 3,200-mile fiber network laid important groundwork, put Iowa ahead of the curve in this arena and made it possible for the granting authorities to put their trust in us. We plan to have the enhanced network up and running by midyear 2012. As it is built, we will continue to explore how its impact can be expanded even further to improve the health of Iowans and our communities.
Bill Leaver is president and chief executive officer of Iowa Health System. Sue Thompson is president and chief executive officer of Trinity Health Systems.