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Yellowstone Park Hospital compresses video images for immediate diagnosis.

From isolated rural clinics to inner-city and suburban hospitals, medical institutions around the world are turning to an emerging communications technology to provide faster, more efficient treatment for patients.

Teleradiology--transmission of medical images via telephone for viewing at another location--is used by a growing number of hospitals to overcome geographic barriers and staff shortages, and to save precious minutes in emergencies.

Lake Hospital, a 10-bed acute care facility and outpatient clinic in Yellowstone National Park, uses Photophone teleradiology systems to send video pictures of injuries sustained by park visitors to specialists at other locations.

The system, by Image Data Corp. of San Antonio, Texas, captures, sends, and receives images of CT (computed tomography) and MR (magnetic resonance) studies, X-rays, and ultrasound and nuclear medicine modalities over a standard telephone line in seconds.

Lake Hospital primarily uses the Photophone to transmit X-ray images of broken bones to a radiologist about 100 miles away at West Park Hospital in Cody, Wyo.

Prior to installing the Photophone, Lake Hospital Administrator Lois Lounsbury says tourists suffering from questionable bone breaks faced limited options.

The tourist could either wait 12 to 24 hours while Lake Hospital sent the X-rays to West Park Hospital for a diagnosis, take the films and see a doctor after returning home from vacation, or make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist at one of the larger hospitals--two to four hours away by car.

Now, tourists with possible breaks receive quick assistance from West Park Radiologist Dr. Warren Hinton. To consult with Hinton, the staff uses a video camera to capture images of the patient's X-rays and then sends the images to the doctor, who sees when within seconds.

While Lake Hospital primarily uses the system to transmit X-rays of questionable bone breaks, Dr. Hinton says the system is also used to view images of other injuries sustained from rock climbing, car accidents, motorcycle tumbles, and wild animal encounters.

There was the time when a tourist got too close to nature--namely one distraught buffalo--and ended up with a horn in the rear end and a fractured wrist. Soon, images of the fractured wrist were on their way to Dr. Hinton.

In Birmingham, Ala., a 16-member radiology clinic has put a new twist on this traditional use of teleradiology systems. The Birmingham Radiology Group, which offers a residency program, uses teleradiology to support and educate its residents during one of the most unnerving parts of their job: the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. hospital shift.

The group operates its residency practice in two 530-bed hospitals. Photophone teleradiology systems are stationed at the Baptist Medical Center-Princeton, and the Baptist Medical Center-Montclair.

Three additional systems are designated for at-home use by the senior residents who rotate on-call duty.

Dale Allen, a fourth-year resident, says teleradiology has helped to ease some of the anxieties of first- and second-year residents who cover the night shift.

"As a backup for junior residents, it's been fantastic," says Allen. "Before, if a junior resident had a question about whether the pathology was normal, he called the senior resident at home and then waited for him to drive to the hospital--about a 30-minute trip.

"For major emergencies, this was never a problem. However, junior residents will usually have three to four minor questions per night as well, and most will think twice before calling the doctor in to handle those questions.

"With the Photophone, the junior residents get the help they need and the senior residents aren't driving back and forth all night to the hospital."

Besides serving a support tool, teleradiology is used as a learning tool by the clinic. Dr. Neil Templeton, residency coordinators, says the residents meet each day to discuss the various images sent during the night by a junior resident.

Templeton says they review the final diagnosis and highlight the problem areas for the junior residents.

"Of course, the primary benefit of teleradiology is that it allows our radiology group to cover both hospitals instantaneously and that it improves the turnaround time of reports for the emergency rooms," says Dr. Templeton.

"This translates to better and faster service for our patients."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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