OCAN Creates Opportunities for Community Development in Rural Oklahoma

Big changes are happening in the community of Seiling. Plans for a new hospital are under way. According to Larry Troxell, chief executive officer for Seiling Community Hospital, 14 acres of land have been purchased, and other businesses are making plans to build or expand when the hospital is completed.

“We are a catalyst for growth across the region,” said Troxell. “People are waiting to start new businesses around the hospital.”

A vital component for the community’s growth will be having the technology in place to support the new hospital and the economic opportunities it creates. In the past the community has not had access to high-speed broadband services, which has limited the care the hospital can provide to area residents. A statewide broadband build-out will soon enable the hospital to expand its care and will create other opportunities for economic growth throughout the community.

The broadband build-out is a new fiber network encompassing 1,005 miles, reaching 35 Oklahoma counties. This network, named the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network (OCAN), is the result of a $74 million grant Oklahoma received in August 2010 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

OCAN is designed to offer high-speed broadband services to rural and underserved areas of Oklahoma. The network connects 32 community anchor institutions, including state colleges, universities, hospital and local libraries, to the state’s existing broadband networks.

Seiling Community Hospital is one of the community anchor institutions who will be connected to the network. OCAN’s high-speed broadband options will make new levels of health care possible that haven’t been available to the community until now.

“For us to have the broadband backbone and the new facility will be a banner day for us,” said Troxell. “We will have access to services we didn’t have before the broadband build-out.”

One service the hospital will now be able to provide is telemedicine. Patients will be able to see specialists in Oklahoma City without driving to the city, saving time, money and the hassle of traveling.

“Rural communities like Seiling have an aging population. This group of patients has difficulty traveling to Oklahoma City to be seen by a specialist,” explained Troxell. “Through telemedicine, they can be seen by a specialist right here in Seiling.”

High-speed broadband services will solve another issue—the need to transfer electronic medical records (EMR). The hospital must transfer information among 12 locations across the state. According to Troxell, faster transfer of patient healthcare information between providers facilitates better care for patients.

For example, patients will no longer have to hand deliver MRI results to their doctor—these can be transmitted electronically. In addition, physicians can electronically access healthcare information from another provider while the patient is waiting in the exam room. This prevents the patient from having to make an additional appointment on another day while the physician waits for the healthcare information to be sent to the hospital.

Transmitting EMR in these ways requires high-speed broadband services.

“EMR is a big issue, and technology has finally advanced to the point that we can utilize EMR to provide services we couldn’t provide in the past,” said Troxell. “With the broadband backbone, we now have the speed we need for EMR and telemedicine.”

Hospitals like Seiling Community Hospital represent just one community service that will benefit from the new broadband network. Educational institutions, local and state governments, tribal organizations and nonprofits will have the opportunity to connect to OCAN through OneNet, who will operate the network once it’s complete.

Through OCAN, OneNet will bring new technology and services to rural Oklahoma communities that simply weren’t possible until now.

“We want to even the playing field for our state’s rural communities by creating opportunities for technical advancement that were limited to the metropolitan areas in the past,” said Sonja Wall, OneNet’s OCAN program manager.

That technology is vital to community development, according to Troxell.

“You’ve not only got to plan for the future, but also have the infrastructure there to accomplish it,” he said.

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