The Illinois Rural HealthNet (IRHN) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to managing a statewide communications network exclusively for healthcare providers, such as hospitals, health clinics, mental health clinics, educational institutions, and medical specialists. In 2016, IRHN had the vision to transform healthcare in Illinois by improving access to medical applications for rural hospitals and clinics. With an eye on that goal, IRHN turned to FG.
IRHN was originally created to provide high-speed, low-latency, data connections to rural Illinois medical facilities. The organization was funded, in part, by a $21 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission Rural Health Care Pilot Program (RHCPP). A board of directors, comprised of a wide variety of Illinois healthcare-related professionals, governs IRHN. In 2016, the board retained FG to manage IRHN’s day-to-day operations focusing on long-term sustainability.
FG was also tasked with conducting a full business review, which FG presented to the board on January 2017. The board then asked FG to develop a transformational model for IRHN, one that would position the organization as a viable, sustainable network seeing as the premier Illinois healthcare network.
First Up: Redesigning IRHN’s Physical Network
FG plans, builds, and operates networks for many clients, but the IRHN network was the first one that FG was asked to manage that it didn’t actually design and build. “We walked in at the middle of the movie,” says David Lunemann, FG’s Vice President of Client Services. “We spent probably six months analyzing the current network — what it was, how it was put together, and how it served members. IRHN was a network that basically connected to other members and offered internet, however it didn’t have other destinations that offered access to meaningful services for providers. Our focus became adding new destinations on the network as well as making it easier for members to operate their end of the network.”
FG determined the IRHN network infrastructure needed to be upgraded at the member edge in order to take IRHN from just a high-speed connection to a premier medical network. Under the project name “Transform,” FG converted IRHN’s switched network to a fully routed network — an 18-month-long effort. The net effect a network that’s more secure and much more member-friendly to operate.
“Today the capabilities that are present in the Illinois Rural HealthNet are vastly improved,” Lunemann says. “It allows our members to do the things that they wouldn’t have been able to do conveniently with the previous design.”
Meeting the Challenges of the Healthcare Industry
The healthcare industry has changed dramatically since IRHN was first created. For example, many healthcare providers used to have on-site professional radiologists. Now those experts often provide services to dozens of healthcare providers from remote. centralized locations.
“A lot of aspects of patient care are going to reside in a centralized location,” explains FG’s Lunemann. “Putting patients in the hospital is the last resort. Providers are doing all they can to deliver excellent patient care while driving the cost of delivery down. This centralized services approach requires a big, clean, low-latency connection to efficiently accomplish.”
It was imperative for IRHN to be a strategic healthcare partner capable of delivering a reliable, fast, and secure network performance rather than “just another connection.” The organization has made great strides towards that objective with the help of FG.
“We provide a connection that is geared toward exactly what healthcare needs,” Lunemann says. “When you become a member of Illinois Rural HealthNet, you get connections to all other members as well as access to key services — many of which reside in the cloud. Members can also arrange to receive diverse redundant connectively to IRHN’s ringed backbone to further ensure critical connectivity never go down. With Illinois Rural HealthNet, you can have the highest level of redundancy that’s available out there.”
FG and Illinois Rural HealthNet continue to work on other ways to improve healthcare through connectivity, including offering direct private access to services in the cloud environment.
“The IRHN board was appreciative that we organized key issues, laid them out logically, offered solutions and sought their guidance and approval,” Lunemann says. “They have been supportive of our straightforward approach to take IRHN from an operational capability to sustainability.”