UB Medical School, 8 WNY Hospitals And Nynex Join to Create Nation's First Medical Telecommunications "Superhighway"

By Lois Baker

Release Date: December 16, 1993 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A medical telecommunications "super highway," thought to be the first metropolitan health network of its kind in the nation, has been established in Western New York through a collaboration of the area's eight teaching hospitals, the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and NYNEX.

During the next 10 years, the fiber-distributed, data-interface (FDDI) network is expected to enable physicians, clinics, hospitals and HMOs in an eight-county area to share information on patient diagnoses, treatment and medical research; have access to the latest medical reference data bases, and advance their medical education.

In addition, it will bring rural physicians in touch with the latest medical technologies, and allow urban specialists to "see" rural patients via video consultations, saving patients travel time and expense.

"Establishing this network marks the beginning of numerous cooperative projects that will enhance medical education, research and patient care in Western New York," said John P. Naughton, UB vice president for clinical affairs, dean of the UB medical school and chair of the Western New York Health Sciences Consortium.

"What we can do with this network will change the way physicians practice in the years ahead."

John Hammond, director of information services for the consortium, said the medical network is the first to link non-affiliated hospitals that are not part of a private group.

The network's first phase is expected to be in operation by the end of the year. The Buffalo General Hospital, Erie County Medical Center and Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, along with the UB medical school, will come on-line during the first phase. The remaining teaching hospitals will be added between May 1995 and April 1997. Other members will be permitted to link into the network as plans progress.

NYNEX is under contract for 10 years to construct and maintain the network, and is leasing its fiber-optic capacity to the consortium at reduced rates.

The initial start-up costs per hospital is $15,000-$20,000 to cover the one-time cost of hospital-based equipment. Members who join before June 1994 will pay $863 a month in services fees. The monthly scale is higher for those who join later.

UB and the teaching hospitals have been working together as a consortium for more than a decade, providing central administration of medical-student education and residency training and certification. A broader-based health consortium was organized in the mid 1980s to develop ways to cut health costs and improve services in the region.

The idea to establish a shared telecommunications network more advanced than any individual hospital could afford on its own -- funded by consortium members -- arose out of this group. It became a reality when the consortium signed a contract with NYNEX in late November.

"This undertaking is right at the heart of health-care reform efforts," said John Friedlander, chief executive officer of The Buffalo General Hospital and chair of the consortium's information systems committee. "It is a multi-provider, fiscally responsible, shared solution that otherwise would have been duplicated eight times over by each of the consortium participants."

A $250,000 pilot project for the network, which linked consortium hospital libraries and the UB Health Sciences Library, went on-line in October. The hospital libraries and UB agreed to buy into a joint medical information system featuring an extensive database of reference, diagnostic and research tools. The system is centered at UB and maintained by the university's director of medical computing.

The next feature, currently being developed, will be a Western New York patient index.

"Any patient entering any hospital would be placed on the patient index," Hammond said. "This application will allow physicians to track patients through specialists and various health-care facilities."

An electronic-mail system and clinical bulletin board to foster communication among physicians, students and residents in the teaching hospitals, as well as in outlying hospitals, are expected to go on-line soon after, Hammond said.

"We are trying to enable clinicians who normally work alone to work together and exchange information."

Other applications planned include centralized residency credentialing and hospital medical staff certification, and a multi-media data base allowing transmission of X-rays, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, and other diagnostic data.

The consortium eventually will establish a not-for-profit corporation to manage the network and facilitate development of new applications.