Iowa's 120 hospitals may hook into a $182 million statewide fiber-optic network, allowing all of the facilities to enter into the telemedicine market.
Despite opposition from regional telephone companies that want hospitals' business, leaders of the state-run system predicted last week that state legislators will pass a bill this session to allow hospitals access for at least telemedicine usage.
Iowa operates one of the most comprehensive fiber-optic networks in the country, with a connecting point in each of the state's 99 counties. The 2-year-old network links the state's schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. The institutions pay fees to use the system, which will cost the state $182 million when all construction and development costs are paid.
"(It) is important in healthcare reform to get the hospitals hooked in for telemedicine," said Iowa Sen. Joe Welsh (D-Dubuque), chairman of the state Senate Communications and Information Policy Committee. "The small, unregulated phone companies are trying to box the Legislature in to the exclusive right to hook up the hospitals."
Telemedicine is a two-way audio and video communications network that gives hospitals, particularly those in remote rural areas, access to medical and technological resources via telephone lines or satellite link-ups.
"We're simply looking for access for telemedicine, and that would add no additional cost to the state," said Greg Boattenhamer, vice president of communications at the Iowa Hospital Association, which is advocating expansion of the fiber-optic network.
Hooking hospitals into the network could bring money to the state-owned system because hospitals likely would pay transaction fees to be a part of it, Mr. Boattenhamer said. No usage fees have been determined for hospitals, executives said.
No more than 10% of the organizations participating in the project can be for-profit groups, Mr. Welsh said. That won't be a major stumbling block because all but about six of the state's facilities are operated on a not-for-profit basis.