TECHNOLOGY: Various California Localities Using ‘Telemedicine’
The use of new information technologies is beginning to take hold in the California medical community, with various hospitals and doctors' groups implementing novel electronically based approaches to medicine. The Sacramento Bee reports that the University of California-Davis Medical Group has installed a "video linkup with several cities in Northern California." The new system allows doctors in Sacramento to share expertise with physicians in distant locales. Further, it "eliminates the need for patients to travel to Sacramento to see a specialist." Normally, a primary care doctor will use the technology to allow a specialist in Sacramento to observe the examination of a patient. "The Sacramento doctor can even examine the patient by using special scopes linked to the video camera that can magnify body parts or be inserted into the nose, mouth or ear," the Bee reports. Such telemedicine techniques have already been used in the fields of psychiatry, infectious disease, nutrition and otolaryngology. Dr. Tom Nesbitt, the physician who runs the telemedicine project, said, "What we wanted to do was essentially distribute the expertise that we have here at the UC Medical Center to the primary care physicians and their patients." Although Nesbitt lauds the program, he concedes it does "raise some privacy and ethical issues for the doctors and patients involved." But Don Hilty, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Davis, expressed excitement over the new possibilities. "You think that technology is a way to distance yourself from people, but it's really a way to bring them together," he said (Young, 5/25).
Online Care In Pleasanton
The board of directors of ValleyCare Health System is considering a "paperless" record system, which would not only streamline hospital operations, but would allow patients to "communicate with their doctors over the Internet." The change would affect patients at ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton and Valley Memorial Hospital in Livermore. Board director Dr. Robert Malstrom said it would allow patients, for instance, to "take their own blood pressure at home and then report the results to a doctor over the Internet." He said, "It is really a very comprehensive change in the way information is gathered in the hospital system. ... [Y]ou would be able to tell your doctor what is going on instead of taking a lot of trips to the doctor's office" (Montiel, Tri-Valley Herald, 5/25).
UCI Training 'Net Docs
The University of California-Irvine School of Medicine "has won a $50,000 grant to develop a pilot program in 'informatics' -- integrating information research into the practice of medicine," the Los Angeles Times reports. While traditional medical practice involves consulting a textbook or reference work, Irvine will train its doctors to "use computers to answer medical questions quickly, scan the latest studies, find out about new drug therapies and retrieve other information, often before the patient leaves the exam room." Through classroom and role-playing education, students will learn how to search the Internet for medical information, as well as how to consult with other physicians online. Dr. Michael Prislin, director of the research division of the office of medical education said, "You can't carry everything around in your head." The Times reports that the "grant will allow the medical school to develop a computer program that will assess the quality of the students' online searches," while the second component of the program "will measure how well the students apply the computer-generated information" (Dodson, 5/26).