BANGOR, Maine — A consortium working to link more than 400 health facilities in northern New England through a telecommunications network has expanded its reach to mobile health clinics.
The Bangor-based New England Telehealth Consortium, a federally funded collection of businesses, agencies and providers scattered throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, has awarded a $500,000 contract for high-speed satellite services to Hughes Network Systems of Maryland.
Under the four-year contract, Hughes will supply routers that enable video conferencing, prescription dispensing, transfer of electronic health records, viewing of digital medical images, voice calls and telemedicine. The technology will benefit mobile telehealth clinics throughout rural northern New England, including vans operated by the Maine Migrant Health Program that tend to migrant workers harvesting blueberries and other crops, NETC President Brian Thibeau said.
Thibeau also serves as chief administrative officer for Penquis, a nonprofit organization helping low-income families, in Bangor.
“Those mobile clinics, when they’re on the barrens of Washington County, they’re isolated from electrical power, certainly no broadband Internet, no fiber,” he said. “They can treat, but obviously it’s in isolation.”
Cell phone coverage also is spotty, but with satellite technology, the mobile clinics’ practitioners will have high-speed, secure connections to hospitals and other health providers to conduct remote consultations, Thibeau said.
“You can basically take the science and expertise of delivering health care to wherever these folks are,” said Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes.
NETC’s private telecom network will link rural health facilities to urban hospitals, medical specialists, and university health care sites throughout the three states. The consortium’s goal is to provide hospitals and health clinics with easy access to the latest medical research, speed the sharing of electronic medical records and images, and facilitate remote consultations with specialists.
Fifteen hospitals and health clinics, out of a planned 400 across the three states, have been connected to the network since late November, and officials said they hope to have all organizations connected by the end of 2013. NETC awarded a $16 million contract to FairPoint Communications in early December 2012.