The city of Lafayette, Louisiana kicked off the Living Lab for Health Innovation yesterday, an initiative designed to focus on major healthcare issues including childhood obesity, an aging population, workplace health and more. Actual medicine is only one piece of the puzzle, however. The other big piece is broadband infrastructure, and what Lafayette envisions as the intersection of technology and advanced medical care.
The groundwork for Lafayette’s Living Lab began back in 2005. That’s the year the city voted to invest in a next-generation telecommunications infrastructure in order to further its economic development efforts. Because of that investment, Lafayette has now opened the door to fiber-based Internet services with speeds of up to one gigabit per second. In 2010, six Lafayette groups built on that foundation and created FiberCorps, a non-profit organization charged with driving pilot technology projects in the community. And finally in June of 2012, Lafayette became one of the founding partners in the federal government’s US Ignite program. Under the auspices of the US Ignite partnership, the Living Lab was born.
Geoff Daily, the executive director of FiberCorps, defines a living lab as a real-world testbed that engages end-users to define challenges and create solutions. Even though the official Living Lab is just getting off the ground, Lafayette has already started its “lab” work through FiberCorps’ efforts. In one of FiberCorps’ projects, the organization has partnered with the Louisiana Healthcare Quality Forum to make Lafayette a pilot site for the Louisiana Health Information Exchange (LaHIE), a digital health records initiative. In another, FiberCorps has helped launch a telemedicine venture, which, for the last two months, has allowed employees at one local company to access physicians remotely through video conferencing at work.
The Living Lab’s future goals are also lofty, including creating a database of student health records, and extending telemedicine to a broader aging community. However, the Lab is only at the beginning of its work. And as Daily emphasized at a press conference yesterday, Lafayette is a good home base for the program. The city is small enough to act like a startup company, but large enough to have an impact nationally. It also has the broadband infrastructure to make innovation possible.