Iowa’s largest hospital group is investing nearly $18-million in federal economic stimulus money to expand its statewide wireless and fiber-optic health-care network. Bill Leaver,  president and C.E.O. of the Des Moines-based Iowa Health System, says the improvements will help bring telemedicine devices into the homes of patients in rural areas so their doctors can watch over them more closely.

Leaver says, “The primary-care physician and their staff taking broader responsibility and longer range responsibility, for example, chronic disease patients and ensuring that the patient is complying with their treatment regimen for that chronic disease.” The money will help move the group of hospitals and doctors toward what’s known as the “medical home model” of health care. Leaver says the result will put homebound and chronically-ill patients — even in rural areas of Iowa — in direct telecommunication with their health-care providers, without their having to leave the house.

Leaver says, “Connected via this wireless tower to a physician office or to a home health agency that will be monitoring that patient, communicating with that patient, seeing various vital signs and actually have visual connection to that patient.”

Iowa Health is also using almost ten million of its own money to complete the project. Leaver says the enhanced network will make possible the transmission of X-rays and CT-scans to any hospital and medical center in Iowa. Leaver expects to have the enhanced network up-and-running by mid-2012. The Iowa Health System has affiliated hospitals in the Des Moines area, the Quad Cities, Anamosa, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Sioux City, Muscatine, Fort Dodge and Dubuque.