February 2007

World News

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Sindh makes rapid progress in telemedicine

Pakistan's Sindh region will set up telemedicine services all its 23 districts very soon. According to Sindh Governor Dr. Ishrantul Ebad Khan. This will enable people living in remote rural areas of Sindh to access specialist doctors working in Pakistan's cities. And it seems that Pakistan government is not procrastinating on this issue, which demands urgent addressing.

According to the Governor, the telemedicine centers will be opened in the districts of Sindh in the next three months, in which e-consultation system will be introduced. All the taluks would be linked through Internet with hospitals in the big cities of Pakistan. Wherever it would not be possible to establish Internet linkages, the patients would contact the given city specialists within the ambit of this network, through cell phone. In case of emergencies also the patient can contact his nearest telemedicine centre through cell phone and access e-consultancy.

Transmitting medical images, digitally

Cuba's Medical Biophysics Center, located in the city of Santiago, has developed a transmission system of digital medical images, which has already been installed in several hospitals of this island-nation, across 11 provinces. The revolutionary software known as Imagis has the potential to give an added boost to the already fast-developing world of health informatics and telemedicine, as it enables storing, processing, visualizing and transmission by e-mail, the images received in tomographs, ultrasound, magnetic resonance, X rays, angiographs and others.
 
This innovation can facilitate patients' diagnosis as through this technique, physicians can interact and discuss the cases with each other online, on the basis of the images. The medical images at hand can always help the given doctor/s in administering proper medication. The new horizons to its application have been already opened, as positive experiences of generalization of the Imagis system in the health units of Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Venezuela are trickling in.

Getting some teeth in tackling Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis or the thinning of bone is a common disease among aged women. Moreover, for a woman of 50, the vulnerability to this disease markedly progresses with the passing of decades. While more than 38 percent of women in the west over 70 are affected by this disease, 70 percent of the western women over 80 are at the risk of osteoporosis, which entails a high risk of bone fractures. Now a three-year long research by a EU funded project has yielded encouraging results, which may lead to the early detection of osteoporosis. Professor Keith Horner and Dr Hugh Devlin of Manchester University coordinated the project in collaboration with the universities of Athens, Leuven, Amsterdam and Malmo, to develop an automated approach to detecting the disease.

The researchers have found that the bone-thinning disease of osteoporosis can be detected through dental X rays. The team of researchers has developed a  software for measuring the thickness of a part of a patient's lower jaw, and on the basis of this specific measurement, dentists can easily identify the vulnerability of a given person to this disease. The jaw cortex widths of less than 3mm are a key indicator of osteoporosis, and the researchers used active shape modelling techniques to detect it. Moreover, the method developed by the team of researchers are not only automated and affordable, but is also simple, and can be carried by a dentist next door taking routine X rays.

Now the ball is in the court of the X ray equipment manufacturing companies, who have to integrate this innovative software with their products, so that it is available to the dentists, which in turn will allow the dentists to translate this research into pragmatic medical care through dental X rays.

Telehealth reaches where diplomacy can't

Despite the ongoing threat of violence looming over the Middle-East, the doctors and academics from Canada, Jordan, Israel and Palestine are sharing their expertise through telehealth to improve the healthcare of this war-ravaged region.

This has been made possible through the joint endeavours of Toronto-based Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Canada International Scientific Exchange Program (CISEPO), the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto and the Peter A. Silverman Centre for International Health at Mount Sinai Hospital.  They entered a three-year agreement to launch an eHealth learning program with the Middle East in 2006. The result of this agreement is the International Network of Knowledge through Electronic Learning; created to program medical rounds with CISEPO's Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian partners, which includes the Edith Wolfson Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, Jordan University of Science and Technology and Al Quds University.The telehealth rounds are delivered in real time, where the Canadian and Middle-East doctors link up for videoconference, across vast geographical distances. The topics of discussion for the rounds are generally focused on various geriatric psychiatric conditions that affect such as Alzheimer's disease, depression and Parkinson's disease. This is a singular telehealth program, which even manages to bridge the Arab-Israeli divide. Under this programme, Israeli and Palestine doctors are working shoulder to shoulder to create a better world for the unfortunates through telemedicine, proving once again that knowledge and humanity knows no barriers. According to Dr. Arnold Noyek, Director of the Peter A. Silverman Centre and the Chair of CISEPO, this Canadian-driven global eHealth programme is just one of the many initiatives that CISEPO is responsible for. CISEPO, with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has influenced Jordanian national health policy by making hearing loss screenings at birth a priority factor.

Welcome to Telehealth Ontario

The province of Ontario in Canada, has made some significant inroads in  public healthcare, through the route of telehealth. Now ill and ailing Ontarians can save or at least reduce the number of visits to hospital, by simply calling Telehealth Ontario for addressing their health concerns. Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential telephone service that connects a patient to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After making a call to Telehealth Ontario, the caller will be asked to describe his/her symptoms and answer questions to help nurses best assess the seriousness of the problem.

Nurses can then help direct callers to the appropriate health care option which may include taking care of oneself at home, seeing one's doctor or going to one's local emergency department.

US corporates pave the way for e-Prescriptions

Human medication errors cause millions of unwarranted sickness and thousands of deaths across the globe. A great part of these human miseries can be avoided if the governments, societies and corporates realize the full potential of IT application in healthcare. One of the remedies to eliminate human error in administering medication is e-Prescriptions, as through this technique the possibility of misreading a doctor's illegible handwritten prescription gets altogether done away with. In this context, the initiative by a cartel of USA corporates is more than praiseworthy. 

Some of the largest healthcare and technology companies, insurance conglomerates and large pharmacy groups, such as Microsoft, Dell and Wellpoint have recently entered upon a partnership, which entails offering every U.S. doctor free access to electronic prescribing. Now the US physicians will need only a personal computer to transmit their prescriptions to the pharmacy through this web-based interface. The service is appropriately termed as National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative. This new initiative is extremely doctor-friendly, requiring minimum technological skills and about 20 minutes of staff training.

The service will cost about 100 million USD over the next five years, and a major part of the costs are borne by the corporate sponsors. However, it is not a purely philanthropic initiative, as there is no denying the fact the sponsors stand to gain much through the widespread use of e-Prescribing, which among other things may lead to better healthcare and hence productivity of their employees.

The doctors who choose to use this free of cost service will have to access insurance giant Wellpoint's records of 30 million members, and a health-plan maintained database that includes information for 200 million Americans. Here it deserves a mention that Wellpoint has been already offering doctors a 1 percent increase in reimbursement for using e-prescriptions, and an additional 1 percent for using electronic health records, and now this free of cost service will give an added fillip to Wellpoint's initiative. However, the American Medical Association, the largest group of physicians in the USA is yet to endorse the system, though it supports the promotion of e-Prescriptions.

Big Island gets a big neurological help

It seems the entire world, ranging from Tokyo to Honolulu, from Russia to New Zealand, is catching up with e-Health. The Queen's Medical Center's Neuroscience Institute in Hawaii, USA is the latest to join the bandwagon. Queen's Medical Center, located in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii is the largest private hospital in Hawaii, and Hawaii's only primary stroke care center certified by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

This leading medical referral center in the Pacific Basin has recently received a federal grant to the tune of 7,27,000 USD to acquire telemedicine facilities, which will enable the Queen's doctors to offer online medical advice to patients with stroke, brain trauma or other assorted neurological injuries at Hilo Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital. Both these hospitals are located in the Big Island, Hawaii where such expertise in neuroscience was hitherto unavailable.

Thanks to telemedicine, now Big Island's residents can access quality neurological care without moving away from their cosy little island. Queen's neurologists will first examine patients in these two above-mentioned Big Island hospitals and only if the need arise, the patients will be advised to fly to Queen's Medical Center for further treatment. For example a brain surgery may need the patient to be physically present at the Queen's Medical Center, but the neurological problems which can be sorted through online advise, will not need the patient to fly all the way to Honolulu.     

Healthcare and wellness market goes the electronic way

According to a report by UK based analysts Wireless Healthcare, which specializes in the application of mobile and wireless technology in the healthcare sector, some consumer electronics companies are exploiting the growing demand for devices and servicesthat help people remain trim, fit and mentally alert.

The recently published report 'eHealth And Consumer Electronics', produced by Wireless Healthcare, suggests the market for consumer electronics based therapeutic and well-being devices and services will grow by 20 percent per annum and could be worth $4 billion per annum by 2010. Wireless Healthcare highlights developments such as Nintendo's 'Brain Age' software, which helps older people retain their mental agility. Brain Age has helped Nintendo break into the ageing baby boomer market – not a demographic group that usually buys video games.

The report also examines the market for devices that reduce blood pressure and hypertension by teaching the user to breathe correctly. These products are based on simple ECG technology and are used as part of stress reduction programmes.

That's not all. The exhaustive report also identifies websites that allow users to upload ECG data from devices – including exercise monitors – as potential platforms for next generation e-Health services. According to Peter Kruger, Analyst with Wireless Healthcare, “Some of these services are being promoted by healthcare payers who have a vested interest in preventative healthcare. We feel that, in the long term, these services will disrupt the business models of incumbent healthcare providers.”

According to Wireless Healthcare, as the exercise device market becomes more competitive, vendors will add healthcare related features to their fitness subscription-based services in an attempt to maintain margins and increase their brand loyalty. The report points to a range of subscription style services that supports both dieting and exercise, and estimates the online well-being market could be worth up to $2 billion per annum by 2010. However, the report warns that services such as mobile phone based online dieting will not maintain growth without support from established players in the diet management sector.

UKPMC: Facilitating biomedical research online

The launch of UK PubMed Central online archive is likely to give a great impetus to biomedical research, as thanks to this online archive of peer-reviewed research papers in the medical and life sciences, now more than 500,000 papers on medical research are freely accessible on Internet.

This archive can be a great help to the medical fraternity across the globe for reference and research. The site can serve as a unique online resource reflecting the biomedical research output of the UK. This online archive is based on American PubMed Central database; the free digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature, which is used by the US National Institute for Health.
 
UKPMC is fully searchable and will provide context-sensitive links to other online resources, such as gene and chemical compound databases.  Currently all documents in UKPMC are linked to databases hosted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)  at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), but  over time, plans are there to provide additional links to resources hosted in the UK and Europe, which are of interest to the UK's biomedical research community.

This archive is being funded by a group of nine research funders, led by Wellcome Trust – an independent charity, funding research to improve human and animal health, and the UK's largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research. Presently the online database offers 600,000 biomedical digital articles and over the next five years, UK PubMed Central online archive hopes to generate up to

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