The Advertiser runs a happy story this morning back on page 6A that tells the story of how the parish school system is implementing a new telemedicine program that will help keep students in school and help them be more productive while they are there. Well it tells most of the story anyway. And the story it doesn't tell is perhaps more important for the ambitions of Lafayette.
What's left out is probably important only to techie types and those with a causal turn of mind: it's pretty innovative really—Why in Lafayette? Telemedicine is high on the list of things that futurists have been projecting for a long time. And it is high on the list cynics make of things that aren't actually happening; not as high as jetpacks and flying cars but right on up there. It seems pretty curious that a full scale implementation across four schools in the same north Lafayette area are turning on here of all places.
One element in the mix is covered, obliquely, in the story, Lafayette General is a classic not-for-profit hospital with a classically community-oriented mission. It should not be too surprising that it is the hospital associated with trying an innovative, small, and likely to be not only low profit but to provide a model that might eventually endanger the current well-established profit center of simply visiting the doctor. You need to have someone in the mix at every level who actually cares about the community and Lafayette General provides that necessary component on the provider side. The Lafayette Parish School System has an easily understandable motive on the user side—sick kids don't learn.
But there a fair number of good-hearted nonprofit medical facilities and lots of needy school districts. Those prerequisites are not enough to explain the why Lafayette is getting the benefit so many have dreamed of. There also needs to be an awareness of the possible benefit and the technical capacity to carry it out without too much hassle.
It is easy to see where the technical capacity came from in Lafayette—From LUS Fiber and the fiber-to-the-schools project that it initiated even before the it launched its world-class fiber to the home project. LUS Fiber put 100 megs of service into every school in the parish as its first public-facing project way back in '05 and without that much bandwidth—at the affordable prices that LUS Fiber offers— there'd be no possibility of running the sort of video-heavy service that the telemedicine project represents.
You need two kinds of awareness: awareness of the need and awareness of the ability of the technological means to help ameliorate it.
Awareness of the need shouldn't be too hard to find; every teacher at every level is aware of the issue of sick students. It is a need that is especially prevalent and especially troublesome at schools that serve poorer populations. Pat Cooper, to offer the devil his due, raised that awareness with his efforts to put clinics in the schools. A telemedicine component seemed like a great way to lower the costs of such a program.
Awareness of the technology was and is harder to find and is especially hard to find in places that can influence medical centers, schools, and technologists all at the same time. Our community was lucky to have Geoff Daily in the mix at the right moment. Geoff was and is an enthusiastic supporter of our community fiber network. He has lead the charge to find innovative and truly useful projects to use the enormous pipes that LUS Fiber has provided to the community and, crucially, he was head of the Lafayette General Foundation at the right moment. The idea of telemedicine clinics had been perking around Lafayette largely through his FiberCorp efforts to promote the idea. Local employment powerhouse Stuller had implemented a trial version largely through Geoff's efforts. When Geoff went on to become head of Lafayette General Foundation he brought the idea with him. Now, soon after he has left the position, the fruits of that long history has ripened.
This story has a moral: the benefits of technical innovation are often ignored and are hard to trace but the passion for technology that projects like LUS Fiber engender are valuable in all sorts of difficult to trace but very real ways. Without the fight, and the subsequent efforts to put the fiber we had won to good use this particular very nice piece of innovation would not be present in Lafayette. Ironically it is a sign of the success of that passion that nobody even notices the technical and human passions that lead to that nice plum for Lafayette; background factors are powerful determinates. But they are not particularly good copy.
Let's raise our glasses to the unseen providers: LUS Fiber and Geoff Daily's passion.