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Ultrafast Internet Link Boosts Radiology Group

September 14, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Practice Management
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When Chattanooga, Tennessee, gets the country’s fastest Internet service later this year, radiologist James Busch, MD, expects to be one of the first customers.

On Monday, EPB Fiber Optics, part of the city-owned power utility, announced that by the end of 2010, all 170,000 homes and businesses that it serves will have access to a 1-gigabit-per-second Internet connection. That, according to EPB and other sources, is the fastest service in the United States and matches the fastest service in the world, otherwise available only in Hong Kong and a few other cities.

Dr. Busch is director of informatics for Diagnostic Radiology Consultants, a 10-physician practice that has several clinics in the Chattanooga area and reads images from 14 hospitals and clinics in Tennessee and Georgia. “The business model works because bandwidth is so available in Chattanooga,” he told the New York Times.

Dr. Busch is an evangelist for high tech. Because of high-speed Internet connections, he told Chattanooga HealthScope magazine, “Our turnaround for a diagnosis is less than an hour, and we can do that all over Tennessee and in Georgia with expansion throughout the Southeast and beyond moving along.” The ability to zip images to any radiologist in the practice, no matter his physical location, also improves patient care, he said. “Our group has pretty much every specialty in radiology covered, but you can’t be everywhere at the same time, so the system brings the image to the group, and the best-skilled radiologist in that subspecialty interprets that image.”

Chattanooga currently enjoys what EPB calls “Fi-Speed” Internet service (named for the fiber-optic cables that make it possible) of up to 100 megabits per second, which is 20 times faster than the average broadband speed in America.

Internationally, the United States is a broadband slowpoke. The Obama administration’s broadband initiative, announced earlier this year, won’t help all that much. Its goal is to bring download speeds of at least 100 megabits to 100 million American homes—by 2020. South Korea plans to offer 1-gigabit-per-second service nationwide by 2012.

Even the 100-megabit speed, Dr. Busch told Alcatel-Lucent (which supplies technology for the EPB network), has increased the work flow per radiologist at his practice by 27 percent.

Ultrafast Internet speeds will spread to at least a few other parts of the United States. Google has announced plans for experimental 1-gigabit service for 500,000 people, with the location or locations to be announced later this year. “Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the Web and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York,” Google’s announcement of the project teased.

How extensively super speeds will be adopted is another matter, especially at Chattanooga’s 1-gigabit price of $350 per month. “We don’t know how to price a gig,” said Harold DePriest, chief executive of EPB. “We’re experimenting. We’ll learn.” He also said that boosting speeds to 1 gigabit can be done at minimal additional expense once the fiber-optic cable and the necessary electronics for 100-megabit speeds are in place. So perhaps the big boost in price, unlike the big boost in speed, will be only temporary.

Related seminar: The Business of Radiology

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