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PROTOTYPE FIBER-OPTIC ULTRASOUND NETWORK PROVIDES WASHINGTON-AREA RESIDENTS WITH IMPROVED HEALTH CARE WHILE REDUCING MEDICAL BILLS

 WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- A prototype fiber-optic full- motion ultrasonography network, which links three medical centers operated by Group Health Association (GHA), is providing thousands of patients in the Washington area with the fastest and most accurate ultrasound tests available.
 The new technology provides improved patient care by speeding up formal diagnosis and treatment and reducing patient anxiety, while cutting back patient medical costs by as much as $750,000 annually.
 GHA, the nation's second-oldest health maintenance organization, is the only HMO in the country to have access to this advanced technology.
 Sonograms are images of organs produced through the use of sound waves, much like radar is used to find and delineate objects. Sonograms are commonly used to help examine gall bladders, prostates and other organs; to take "pictures" of babies inside the womb; and to help conduct women's breast and pelvic examinations.
 The new technology allows medical technicians at two GHA medical centers in suburban Virginia and Maryland to transmit live moving ultrasound images over phone lines to radiologists at GHA's main facility in downtown Washington, who study the crystal-clear pictures on high-resolution television monitors. The dramatic clarity of the fiber-optic ultrasound pictures eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming repeat tests caused by the poor quality of the film- based technology that the network replaced.
 The 39-mile dedicated fiber optic network links radiologists at GHA's West End Medical Center in Washington with sonographers who produce the ultrasound images at GHA's sites in Marlow Heights, Md., and Annandale, Va.
 The network eventually will be expanded to GHA's other locations, with the Rockville and Prince George's medical centers the most likely to go on-line next. Since becoming operational a year ago, the fiber-optic network has been used to examine more than 6,000 patients, or about 125 each week.
 Dr. Martin Kneller, GHA's chief of radiology, said the network "permits patients to go to the GHA facility nearest them and have direct and immediate access to a staff of physicians and radiologists, even if they aren't on site. If there's a problem, it can be diagnosed immediately by one physician, or an entire team can be called in if necessary.
 "For radiologists, the network means they can stay at our main facility more than a dozen miles away and view the ultrasound exams as they take place, and as if they were in the same room with the patient," Kneller said.
 The network, which cost $10,000 to install, helps GHA reduce costs by eliminating the need to have radiologists at every one of its medical centers, increasing the speed and efficiency of the testing procedure, and eliminating the need for repeat tests caused by unclear pictures taken by film-based ultrasound equipment.
 Robert P. Pfotenhauer, GHA's president and CEO, said the fiber- optic network, which costs $60,000 a year to operate, is "an excellent example of the benefits of emerging leading-edge technology that GHA is seeking to provide to its patients."
 GHA is considering plans to establish a similar ultrasound network for cardiac patients.
 Kneller said the improvement in the quality of images over traditional ultrasound methods "is obvious and dramatic, and comparable in clarity to high definition television (HDTV). It is the difference between taking a picture in the fog or in full daylight."
 Susan P. Gibson, GHA's director of telecommunications, said the ultrasonography network means "physician expertise is now available to all of our members at a moment's notice, and radiologists can obtain important information immediately."
 Gibson noted that the efficiencies provided by the network has reduced the waiting time for patients who are scheduled for ultrasound tests, enables physicians to immediately schedule emergency tests when necessary, and permits physicians to consult with radiologists about the tests over a special audio hotline. Photographic prints of the screen images are printed on site, and serve as a permanent record of each fiber-optic ultrasound test.
 The network is a joint effort between GHA and C&P Telephone, a subsidiary of Bell Atlantic. The project is the first tangible result of a "quality partnership" between GHA and Bell Atlantic to improve the products and services provided by each company.
 -0- 2/1/93
 /CONTACT: Edward Segal of Edward Segal Communications, 202-333-7966, for the Group Health Association/


CO: Group Health Association ST: District of Columbia IN: HEA SU:

DC -- DC001 -- 1239 02/01/93 10:04 EST
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Date:Feb 1, 1993
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