From the peaks to the plains, Colorado Telehealth Network (CTN) is laying the foundation to bring Coloradans access to affordable health care.
Colorado Telehealth Network was created in 2008 as a joint endeavor between the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) and the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC). CHA and CBHC each received federal grant money to set up statewide, dedicated health care broadband networks. Rather than compete or overlap efforts, they combined initiatives and established CTN; a project dedicated to improving the technology infrastructure with the ultimate goal of improving access to health care in underserved areas of Colorado.
Supported by the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund, CTN supplies subsidized broadband access to almost 200 physical and behavioral health care facilities across the state, with plans to double network participation over the next few years. Project Manager, Ryan Westberry, notes that the program “has become a leader in telehealth and is seen as a model for the United States.” He quotes the FCC, who refers to CTN as “an innovative working model for the future.”
The broadband network is private, encrypted, health-grade, and compliant with all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. It came online in 2009 and is designed to facilitate the transfer of sensitive patient information quickly and securely between providers. Mr. Westberry notes that the broadband infrastructure “enables a focus on patient-centered care. Through video, voice, and electronic transfer of data along the fiber lines, CTN supports wellness, helps to integrate personal health records through data transfer, and will connect to the medical-home models of the future.”
As CTN grows, Colorado hospitals, clinics, and behavioral health providers are seeing how the statewide network can be utilized to further decrease the cost of care while increasing accessibility to care and facilitating the integration of physical and behavioral health. After being approached by hospitals about possible imaging storage, transfer, and retrieval, CTN launched the Colorado Imaging Exchange (CIE). Centura Health and Children’s Hospital Colorado are two participants in CIE, which reduces patient exposure to radiation by eliminating duplicate testing and decreases technician time and overhead costs. Providers connected to CIE can do real-time consultations and collaborations, thus reducing the time and expenditure of travel.
CIE is not the only project that is furthering CTN’s goal to increase health care access across the state. They are working with Colorado Access and Access Care Technologies on their telehealth platform to expand the use of telehealth technologies across the state and are founding charter members of the Western Telehealth Interstate Collaborative (WESTIC) and the Colorado Telehealth Working Group (CTWG).
WESTIC is comprised of leaders from states spanning the West from Oregon and California to Utah and New Mexico. The group formed with the intent to foster collaboration between the states’ networks to reach the medically underserved and to help drive policy change through implementation and education about technology-enabled health care coordination.
CTN is the convener of the Colorado Telehealth Working Group, a group of health care leaders including major hospital systems, payers, clinicians, state government agencies, and foundational funders. As a member of the CTWG, Mr. Westberry explains that the goals of the group are “to promote good telehealth practices and policies for the state of Colorado and to inform policy-makers on the current state of telehealth in Colorado.”
To date, CTN has brought over $20 million in subsidy funds into the state to improve access to care in both rural and urban areas. But that’s just the beginning of CTN according to Westberry. The organization’s three focus areas stem organically from each other, from infrastructure to imaging exchange and eventually to telehealth appointments with a patient on the plains and the provider in downtown Denver. Mr. Westberry calls this “equitable access to health care” and once this vision is realized, CTN and Colorado will be on the frontier of healthcare technology.