$100 million for Pa. broadband network

A coalition of Pennsylvania health-care groups, research organizations and colleges has been awarded a federal grant of $99.6 million to develop a statewide fiber-optic network that if built as proposed would span nearly 1,700 miles through 39 of the state’s 67 counties. The grant was made to the Keystone Initiative for Network-Based Education and Research.

“This project represents an extraordinary collaboration among our public and private universities, health care providers … and other public sector members to develop a network that will provide open access to a state-of-the-art broadband system at affordable cost,” said John C. Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, in a statement.

The federal grant will bolster $29 million in private funding for the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN). The federal money comes from last year’s $819 billion stimulus bill - the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This stimulus funding for PennREN presents and exciting opportunity for Pennsylvania heath care providers to more effectively share clinical information,” said Carolyn F. Scanlan, president of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

Scanlan said the network should provide the means for hospitals and other health providers in Pennsylvania to share electronic information with one another and eventually link to a national health information network.

The goal is to enable true electronic health records across the commonwealth and nationwide. Experts say, such electronic records would potentially improve the quality of care, reduce duplication of services, and limit errors. If successfully implemented such electronic health records could ultimately reduce health care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars each year, proponents say.

The PennREN network is envisioned as a electronic link between colleges and universities and ultimately could each more than 5 million people and 200,000 across the state.