SSHA plugs in the last rural Ontario hospitals to network

The Ontario Network for e-Health, or ONE Network, has been extended to the shores of James Bay through an arrangement with K-Net Services, a non-profit broadband network operated by the tribal council organization Keewaytinook Okimakanak.

James Bay General Hospital, headquartered in Moosonee with facilities in two other communities, is the last of Ontario’s roughly 150 public hospital corporations to be connected to ONE Network, said Anne Lawrence, a business manager at Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), which operates the network. Weeneebayko General Hospital, a federally-run hospital in nearby Moose Factory, has also been connected to the network.

Lawrence said connecting all of Ontario’s public hospitals has been a primary goal for SSHA, but now that it has been accomplished, there is still work to do connecting additional clinics, physicians’ offices and other health-care facilities across the province.

The network provides services such as telehealth, verification of Ontario health cards, access to clinical information and administrative information sharing.

Wes Drodge, chief executive officer of James Bay General Hospital, said the network will improve connectivity between the hospital’s two 16-bed “wings” in Fort Albany and Attawapiskat and its clinic in Moosonee. Access to telehealth services will allow remote diagnosis and consultation among the three sites, he said.

The Ontario Telehealth Network uses the facilities of ONE Network to provide for remote diagnosis, consultation and educational videoconferencing, Lawrence said. In 2005, about 20,000 videoconferences used the network, some of them involving as many as 3,000 people, she added.

“It helps to keep specialists in the community,” Lawrence said. “Most important, it keeps patients in the community.”

Hospitals and physicians can also use ONE Network to validate Ontario health cards, and emergency departments use it for access to provincial drug benefits data that helps them provide care faster. Physicians can get access through the network to a clinical management system that spares them the need to install systems of their own. And SSHA is developing a secure e-mail system to allow medical professionals to exchange sensitive patient medical information.

One group of hospitals in eastern Ontario even uses the network for voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Lawrence said, saving more than $100,000 per year in long-distance charges.

The network has been extended to Moosonee and Moose Factory via a fibre connection from Sudbury operated by Ontera, the telecommunications subsidiary of the provincially-owned Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, explained Brian Beaton, services co-ordinator at K-Net. Mocbreebec Development Corp., a local cable provider, provides fibre capacity to the hospitals under contract to K-Net, which runs communications services to aboriginal communities across Canada.

K-Net is providing guaranteed one-megabit-per-second capacity to the James Bay and Weeneebayko hospitals, Beaton said, with the ability to support bursts up to 10 megabits per second.

Beaton said the most important thing about this announcement is that SSHA has turned to a non-profit organization like K-Net rather than major telecommunications carriers to help extend its network. “Now this window has opened, that SSH is working with community-based groups,” he said.

Funding from the federal health and industry departments also helped with the project.

Drodge expects the network’s benefits will become more apparent over time. “As we get to use it more, of course we’ll be able to develop more opportunities,” he said.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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