By University Communications
December 12, 2007
The University of Arizona’s internationally renowned Arizona Telemedicine Program has received Federal Communications Commission funding to upgrade the broadband network it uses to deliver award-winning, critical health services to Arizona’s remotest communities. The award is part of a larger, UA-led effort to build a state-of-the-art telemedicine network for the American Southwest.
The Arizona Telemedicine Program, known as ATP, at the UA College of Medicine in Tucson co-authored the successful $15.56 million grant proposal to the Four Corners Telehealth Consortium, composed of representatives of the universities of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. That funding will pay for the development of the Southwest Telehealth Access Grid, which will enable health care providers in rural and low-income locations throughout the Southwest to access high-quality urban health centers through a broadband communications network.
ATP will receive $875,000 of that funding to upgrade network infrastructure systems to enhance the quality and security of its services to 171 telemedicine sites in 71 communities. The grant will enable the ATP to use emerging, ultra-high speed broadband technologies to better deliver health services, clinical research and distance-education programs throughout the Southwest.
“This upgrade in Arizona will enable us to support a number of next-generation telehealth applications,” said Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, founding director of ATP and executive director of the UA College of Medicine Institute for Advanced Telemedicine and Telehealth (T-Health) . Weinstein co-founded the Four Corners Telehealth Consortium in 2004.
“We anticipate that access to secure high-speed communications via new national network backbones will be important for telemedicine applications that are under development, such as three-dimensional imaging, and will catalyze a new round of innovation in the telehealth world,” Weinstein said.
Creation of a regional system of telehealth for the American Southwest is being hailed as a major step toward a nationwide broadband network for telehealth.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said, “The development of such a network will create numerous opportunities for delivering telehealth services, including telemedicine applications that have the potential to revolutionize the current health care system throughout the nation. A dedicated national broadband network also will facilitate the President’s goal of implementing electronic medical records nationwide.”
Weinstein added, “Funding of the Southwest Telehealth Access Grid represents a significant step toward the creation of a nationwide broadband network dedicated to health care. Linking the Four Corner states’ networks is a significant step forward from the national perspective. It creates the opportunity for the linked Four Corners telehealth broadband networks to become a cornerstone of a national broadband health care network infrastructure.”
The grant addresses the need for high-speed data transmission via broadband conduits that is greatest in rural healthcare, where isolated clinics can save lives by using advanced communications technology to tap the expertise of modern urban medical centers.
The FCC made the grant comes from its Rural Health Care Pilot Program, dedicated to establishing statewide and regional broadband telehealth networks throughout the United States. To date, the FCC has given more than $417 million to establish such grids in 42 states and 3 U.S. territories. Its funding is derived from the FCC Universal Service Fund fee, collected from long-distance and wireless telephone subscribers. Proceeds help to pay for Internet service to schools, libraries, low-income populations and rural communities.
The University of New Mexico will administer the Southwest Telehealth Access Grid component of the Four Corner network. Participating states include Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico; the FCC also added Texas to the grid.
The ATP has both state and federal sponsors and has participated in many U.S. Department of Defense projects over the years. Initial meetings to organize the Four Corners Telehealth Consortium were funded, in part, by the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technologies Research Center, headquartered at the U.S. Army Material Command at Ft. Detrick, Md.
Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. Army has promoted the use of telemedicine in the U.S. and internationally, turning to Weinstein and the ATP to address national and international jurisdictional issues in telemedicine, including interstate licensing and institutional credentialing of telephysicians. The ATP’s involvement with international telemedicine includes collaborative programs in Latin America, the Balkans and Asia.
“The Arizona Telemedicine Program’s top priority is to provide health care for geographically remote and underserved populations in Arizona,” says Dr. Weinstein. “At the same time, we can serve as a model program for other states and countries throughout the world.”