ATM weaves powerful web between Colorado University Hospital and remote facilities

Denver 18 June 1999 The University Hospital of Colorado is using a new-generation, enterprise 3Com ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)/Ethernet network to enhance care in more than 325.000 patient visits each year. The 3000-user network also is improving instruction for nearly 800 University of Colorado medical students and residents, who receive most of their medical training at the hospital. By converging voice, video and data services, the high-speed network permits the hospital to introduce a wealth of groundbreaking health care and administrative applications. Caregivers now have instant access to X-ray, CatScan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), ultrasound as well as cardiology images, allowing them to expedite treatment decisions in many cases from remote locations.

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The University Hospital of Colorado is using a new-generation, enterprise 3Com ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)/Ethernet network to enhance care in more than 325.000 patient visits each year. The 3000-user network also is improving instruction for nearly 800 University of Colorado medical students and residents, who receive most of their medical training at the hospital. By converging voice, video and data services, the high-speed network permits the hospital to introduce a wealth of groundbreaking health care and administrative applications. Caregivers now have instant access to X-ray, CatScan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), ultrasound as well as cardiology images, allowing them to expedite treatment decisions in many cases from remote locations.

The new network enables the hospital to undergo a strategic shift from dependency on paper-based medical charts to electronic patient records which forms another time-saving capability accelerating care. The availability of data stored on-line and in digital formats gives the Health Sciences Center faculty and students from the schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy the ability to perform analyses to assist in identifying significant correlations in medical conditions and outcomes. Colorado implemented one of the first enterprise switched ATM networks in a large university teaching hospital. The driving force behind the innovative project was the need to construct a new Critical Care Tower, which had to house twelve operating rooms, intensive-care patient units, the Burn/Trauma unit and the clinical laboratory.

The University Hospital previously relied on a shared Ethernet infrastructure that ran at speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) or 15 times slower than the novel ATM network. The former network's narrow bandwidth prohibited the 600 physicians from electronically sharing diagnostic tools like X-rays, ultrasound tests, and even patient files with each other and with doctors in the remote affiliated sites. As a result, medical staff had to rely on manual distribution methods that were accepted but inefficient. The old network was also preventing the hospital from taking full advantage of major advances in medical technology, such as telemedicine and digital radiology.

In turn, the new ATM network provides a central point of connection to serve as the heart of all operations. As a local area network (LAN), the architecture links each department in the nine-building Denver campus. It also connects each of the buildings to one another, forming a metropolitan area network (MAN), to supply complete connectivity across the campus. The MAN extends to the new 217-acre Fitzsimons campus, and the wide area network (WAN) provides high-speed links to seven affiliate facilities, situated hundreds of miles from the campus. The hospital also pilots a telemedicine programme at a Colorado prison, which will extend to multiple correctional facilities all over the state within a year. The network-driven programme allows to save the Colorado Department of Corrections an average of $450 in transportation and security costs for an inmate visit to a care facility.

The ATM architecture has a large impact on patient services. In digital form, diagnostic tools, such as X-rays, CATscans, and MRIs require thousands of megabits. Since the ATM network easily transports such huge files, patients enjoy tremendous treatment benefits. Physicians from anywhere on the campus now conduct consultations while simultaneously viewing patients' X-rays, CATscans and MRIs over the ATM network. Overall, the network provides the 3000 physicians, nurses, and administrators with access to 65 applications, including medical records, radiology reports, bone marrow transplant information and surgery scheduling. Reports and lab results that once took hours to route currently are sent over the network and received in seconds. The network also offers phone, data and video connections between the main campus and the new Fitzsimons campus, six miles east.

Redundancy is another key design advantage, built into the network. Since it is the hospital's duty to provide a round the clock service, the network is designed to continue to operate at full 155 Mbps ATM speed, in case a power outage or equipment problem is causing a network failure. Therefore, the 14 ATM backbone switches have dual links to one another and to 51 Ethernet switches and the servers. If any of the 65 switches fail, traffic automatically is rerouted so that users will be unaffected. Redundancy equally allows to perform hardware and software upgrades and maintenance with no down-time. Redundancy on the WAN permits the university hospital to maintain full operation as the facility moves to the new Fitzsimons campus.

In short, the university hospital's network shows how advanced technology and innovative health care strategies can result in more effective patient care. By leveraging 3Com's ATM architecture, it is possible to continue to transform imaginative treatment concepts into real-world solutions which improve the efficiency and quality of care. The continuing stream of new network services is an indicator of the ATM network's success in smoothly integrating into hospital operations. Microsoft Outlook is being installed for enterprise-wide e-mail and calendering. The hospital equally supports video-conferencing, a capability that will allow the physicians at both campuses to conduct face-to-face meetings without travelling to see one another.


Leslie Versweyveld

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