If the U.S. healthcare industry were a human being, it would be lodged in a hospital room anxiously awaiting an operation to scrub out its clogged arteries and breathe fresh life into a body suffering from years of network neglect.
As it is, the industry, beset on one side by rising costs and on the other by increasing government rules to improve, needs something like what New Jersey's Horizon Health Center is getting from Cablevision's (NYSE: CVC) Optimum Lightpath commercial businesses unit: an "infrastructure for our future," said Arlene Simon, CIO of Jersey City-based Horizon Health Center.
Horizon's future includes using a fiber network to take connect and take care of the needs of three buildings, a network of doctors and more than 19,000 patients--and doing it without sacrificing an arm and a leg to the financial surgeons.
The nation's system of care is "in the midst of a transition and has to find new ways" to serve the needs of both its businesses and its patients, Simon said. "In the next couple years you're going to find a lot of people looking to share information and communicate in real time across distances for numerous shareholders. You need a real communications platform that can scale to needs rapidly."
The copper-based network Verizon provided just couldn't meet the needs of today's Horizon Health Center and certainly not the needs of tomorrow's, she said.
"In healthcare you have to be able to read radiological images. You have to move media, video and information and you need a space to move that it," she pointed out. "I can't push real-time sonograms over a DSL line."
Meeting those kinds of network needs are only the start of what a future healthcare system will and should look like, said Julie McGrath, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Optimum Lightpath.
Another big element in the Optimum package revolves around the patient.
"There's an entertainment component and a video-on-demand library that can be tailored very specifically to an individual patient in an individual ward," said McGrath. "You can consider it probably the killer app for these hospitals and healthcare systems. It's a patient engagement strategy and a clinical care workflow system. It's something that helps them refine their processes and get better at what they're doing so they can control their costs and deliver a better in-hospital patient experience."
That, though, is when things are at a running pace. Right now, Horizon is just learning to quick-step a bit after being saddled with a copper network. The new system uses a mirrored dual server system to make sure that speeds and redundancy are maintained, Simon said.
She's also starting to get a grasp on the flexibility that fiber provides.
"The telephone system was fine for a while for communications ... but communications is changing; it's being able to pull my information no matter where I am in the world and define it, display it, share it, package it and deliver it in real time," she said. "Legacy phone systems and communications systems are a hindrance to getting to that."
That sort of network will move Horizon to the next step in its healthcare provisioning journey, permitting activities like video consultations between doctors and radiology centers and hospitals, using in-the-cloud connectivity to assess a situation without redundant procedures, said McGrath.
Optimum Lightpath is "like life anew" for Horizon, she said. "They jettisoned their old provider" for a network that "gives the flexibility the scalability and the quality of service and SLAs that huge hospitals and healthcare systems really need."
On top of everything else, it's not expensive, said Simon.
"We don't have a lot of money," she said.
She does have a lot of pressure.
"There's a lot of attention from the Obama administration to get better at demonstrating meaningful use of technology to help these hospitals and healthcare providers control their costs and provide more excellent service," McGrath said. "There are reward triggers and there are penalty triggers."
And fiber, concluded Simon, is a reward trigger.
"Fiber is flexible, literally. That's why they call it fiber; it bends, it yields, it gives. You need that kind of flexibility to communicate in the real world," she concluded.