Texas Health Association Turns to Cisco IP Communications Solution to Monitor Disease Outbreaks, Distribute Information
Immediate, Multimedia Communication among Public Health Officials Across Texas Helps Mitigate Health Risks
January 15, 2004
By Stacy Williams, News@Cisco
Emergency response to bio-terrorism or natural disease outbreaks must occur at lightning speed, and the stakes are exceedingly high.
From West Nile Virus to SARS, natural diseases can be every bit as threatening as bio-terrorism, and can cause widespread panic.
Taking appropriate steps and initiating immediate communications can save lives. For example, most people want to evacuate in a natural disaster, but if a contagious agent is involved, an evacuation could cause a disease outbreak to spread like wildfire.
Recognizing the need to locate infections, take countermeasures and communicate with the public as expediently as possible, The Texas Association of Local Health Officials (TALHO) deployed an advanced Cisco IP communications solution that promotes faster detection and monitoring of outbreaks and supports delivery of alerts, treatment information and options instantly to public health entities.
Tasked with promoting health, preventing disease and protecting the environment across Texas, TALHO believes strongly in the power of advanced communications technologies to substantially lessen health risks, both from natural diseases and bio-terrorism. Backed by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TALHO acted on its vision.
At dozens of sites across Texas, public health officials now have instant access via a new Cisco IP communication solution to information about disease outbreaks via email, fax, pager, wireless PDA or the Web. They can track geographic areas affected via the Web, or use satellite downlinks and video conferencing to obtain detailed, multimedia information.
The Cisco solution is used as far more than just an emergency response system. Public health workers across Texas tap into the end-to-end Cisco solution as part of the normal course of business.
Today, 74 Texas local health departments and 82 Texas Department of Health regional offices are on the network, and its scalability will accommodate other healthcare and local law enforcement entities that want to participate. The converged Cisco IP network will ultimately allow anyone in the Texas Health Alert Network to communicate via email and telephone using a single network infrastructure, all while avoiding long-distance charges.
"The use of IP Telephony and other technologies will not only save a tremendous amount of money, but more importantly will allow for more communication among sites to share knowledge and expertise that could save lives now and in an emergency," says Lee Lane, executive director for TALHO.
TALHO worked with Cisco Gold partner Avnet Enterprise Solutions to implement the solution. All sites are currently connected via T1, but TALHO will soon migrate to a statewide Cisco Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network to simplify the solution and increase its flexibility.
The Cisco solution delivers capabilities essential to the project's success, from enabling secure distribution of video and multimedia content to streamlining network management for reduced operational costs.
A CiscoWorks LAN Management Solution (LMS) provides comprehensive, low-cost network management and monitoring tools. Cisco IP/TV solutions give TALHO a cost-effective infrastructure to deliver vital content to public health officials, from detailed maps to videos of treatment options and instructions.
Using Cisco IP/TV software, TALHO can distribute video and Web site content across the IP network. Cisco IP/TV Content Manager gives TALHO centralized control of both scheduled and on-demand programming.
Due to the sensitivity of the information traveling over the Cisco IP network, security and availability are of utmost concern. Cisco Quality of Service (QoS) helps ensure high availability of the network. Cisco PIX firewall appliances and Cisco Secure Access Control Server safeguard confidential information and allow TALHO to control user authentication and access centrally. A Cisco Virtual Private Network (VPN) Concentrator supports secure communications across sites.
Deploying the Cisco solution was a significant challenge, amplified by the legacy systems at each health department. "In the 1990s, public health departments had very archaic communications-many didn't even have computers, much less email," says Lane. "That translates into 74 different entities with 74 legacy issues."
But today, from El Paso to Beaumont and Lubbock to McAllen, health officials can now engage in far-reaching communication, faster and more cost-effectively than ever before. They can also use tools to get their messages across in clearer, more effective ways with data, voice, text, fax, Internet, multimedia, video and LAN communications. The Cisco IP communication solution has catapulted public health departments across Texas into the Digital Age in style.
"We can start giving people vaccines if the outbreak is viral, or antibiotics if it's bacterial," says Lane. "We can begin control measures to slow down the epidemic. The speed of communication over our Cisco IP communication solution is essential to the success of any project."
Stacy Williams is a freelance journalist based in Dutch John, UT.
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