For the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which serves the metropolitan area of Vancouver and coastal communities north of the city, the consolidation of British Columbia’s regional health authorities two years ago gave the agencies an opportunity to rationalize the networks and Internet access

facilities serving hospitals and community health sites.

“”We had a whole bunch of disparate networks throughout the authority,”” says Dave Parker, the health authority’s regional director of technology services. So the organization turned to its carrier, Telus Corp., to set up a wide-area Ethernet network linking hospitals and health centres across the lower mainland and up the coast.

The network, which was due to be completed by press time, provides Gigabit Ethernet connections among five hospitals in the Vancouver metropolitan area. Most other facilities in the metro area — including more than 50 community health sites — are starting off with 100 Mbps service that can be upgraded to 1 Gpbs, Parker says. Most facilities outside the Vancouver area — in communities such as Sechelt, Powell River and Bella Coola — have 10 Mbps service. Some of these could be upgraded to 100 Mbps, while others cannot, says Parker.

One major use of the network will be transmitting digital radiography images among the facilities. For instance, a doctor at the University of British Columbia hospital would be able to look at an X-ray taken of a patient in Bella Bella, far to the north.

The network will also allow let authority consolidate its Internet access arrangements, allowing all its facilities to share a high-speed Internet connection rather than making separate access arrangements for every site.

And the network carries e-mail among locations and makes possible shared administrative systems, Parker explains. “”This is essentially the foundation, the highway that will allow us to move forward with regionalized systems throughout the authority.””

Parker says Ethernet seemed the best choice for the authority-wide network.

“”Our feeling is that Gigabit Ethernet at this point is really where the development is happening.””

But what the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority can do with metropolitan Ethernet is only the beginning, Parker points out. The other five health authorities in B.C. are building similar wide-area Ethernet networks. The next stage will be to link those regional networks, creating a province-wide network. The health authorities hope to reach that stage some time this year, Parker says.

Once that happens, health-care facilities all over the province will be able to share information. For instance, if a patient is transported from Prince George to a hospital in Vancouver, the person’s medical records and images could be sent almost instantly over the network. Parker says the health authorities are looking into the possibility of using the network for videoconferencing and voice traffic as well.

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