Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative is a consortium of twenty-nine member hospitals, three large affiliated member hospitals and a number of other health care providers and health care service providers. RWHC’s stated objective is “to be a catalyst for regional collaboration, an aggressive and creative force on behalf of rural communities and rural health. Incorporated in 1979, RWHC has received national recognition as one of the country’s earliest and most successful models for networking among rural hospitals.”
Working together, RWHC and Digicorp designed a combination of private frame relay connections and public virtual private networks (VPNs) that serve as a network for accessing complex health care services such as radiology, cardiology and distance learning/training for rural hospitals throughout Wisconsin. Through this network, RWHC is also able to provide secured connections to the Internet for fifteen member rural hospitals. Historically, advanced health care solutions such as these were not readily available to rural hospitals. This network affords health care providers throughout the state and the region the ability to collaborate, thereby improving health care access for all of Wisconsin.
The need to establish a data network that could provide rural hospitals with access to critical health services was the objective. The partnership of RWHC, Digicorp and Norlight Telecommunications was the vehicle for establishing an appropriate and cost effective network solution.
Early in the assessment process, it was determined that a private frame relay network would be an effective approach for creating a high performance network for application sharing among the RWHC hospitals. Further, this network would give all of the hospitals the benefit of having RWHC serve as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Included with the initial network deployment, each RWHC hospital benefited from two-tier Internet security – both at the individual hospital and at RWHC’s connection to the Internet. Each RWHC hospital could also access Web and mail filtering, spam filtering and helpdesk support if they chose. These shared services, provided by RWHC, proved to be more cost effective than the in-house alternative both initially and on an ongoing basis.
Since the network’s creation, the available health applications have continued to grow. Today, rural hospitals are benefiting from tele-radiology, tele-cardiology, and off-site disaster recovery. In the near future, these hospitals will be offered email encryption services and video conferencing for remote assessments. The vision of great health care for all is a reality due to RWHC’s commitment to technology.