Fiber optics have brought a new level of health information exchange to providers in the upper Midwest. A 3,200-mile long fiber optic network provides the communication backbone to HealthNet connect, LC (HNc), a hard-wired health information exchange (HIE) network that spans the state of Iowa.

Fiber optic technology, with its ability to transport data at the speed of light, holds great promise for communication technology, according to Rodney Brown, executive director of HNc. The company’s investments in fiber optics “are being put to work to produce better outcomes through coordinating patient care and managing population health,” Brown says.

Iowa Health System (IHS) acquired this fiber optic network in 2005, and has since leased additional fiber optics that allows their HIE network to connect to Denver, CO and Chicago, IL. Along with these acquisitions, IHS has received a grant to fund a pilot program that will connect broadband services to rural hospitals and clinics.

Providers participating in the HIE have the benefit of a reliable and secure high speed connection, allowing them to participate in HIE and telehealth programs. “From a practical standpoint, these technologies may exist, but it’s the network that makes or breaks these services,” Brown says.

Additional benefits to rural participants include connecting patients with specialists they would otherwise have to travel great distances to visit, allowing them to leverage such technologies as health record exchange and videoconferencing.

HNc has plans to include new members to their network in Colorado, Nebraska, and Illinois, expanding to include other specialties such as home healthcare providers.