Mobile Telemedicine System is Highlighted by National Library of Medicine Conference

For immediate release: March 13, 2001

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The nation's first telemedicine program to evaluate stroke patients in a moving ambulance on their way to the hospital will be highlighted at a National Library of Medicine symposium, "Telemedicine and Telecommunications: Options for the New Century." The symposium is being held on March 13 at the Natcher Conference Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore are the first in the nation to use sophisticated video and computer technology to assess a stroke patient in real time during an ambulance ride. The system has been developed in partnership with TRW Inc. through a combination of joint funding and grants provided by The National Library of Medicine since the project began in 1996.

"Every moment counts, now that we have a drug to dissolve clots causing the stroke," says Marian LaMonte, M.D., M.S.N., director of the Brain Attack Team at the University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of Neurology and Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "If we can save time and get a head start in evaluating patients even before they arrive at the hospital, we may be able to prevent more death and disability. This is very important since the clot-busting drug tPA can only be given within three hours after stroke symptoms begin."

"The system we have developed provides a lot of flexibility," said Yan Xiao, Ph.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who has been key to coordinating the project. "We have set it up so that a physician can interact with emergency personnel and patients on two or more ambulances at the same time."

"TRW is thrilled to have leveraged our advanced technology, systems development, and integration expertise for such a socially significant program," said David Gagliano, TRW Telemedicine Program Manager. "Over the course of the next year, the project team will be enhancing the system using Next Generation Internet technologies and performing a rigorous clinical evaluation of the system. We look forward to opportunities for a wider regional deployment of this technology," added Gagliano.

During the first phase of the project, the researchers demonstrated that the mobile telemedicine system could provide two-way audio and video communication between a moving ambulance and a computer in a doctor's office. The system has been used during the transport of 12 stroke patients to the hospital and in dozens of test runs. Over the next year, using more advanced equipment, the researchers will evaluate the system's usefulness in examining patients before they reach the hospital and determine whether it allows more patients to receive the clot-busting drug.

This new, sophisticated system is just the first step in helping medical professionals save the lives of patients with time-sensitive interventions," said Colin F. Mackenzie, M.D., professor of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the National Study Center for Trauma and EMS. "For example, this technology may help trauma centers to be better prepared to treat particular patients and even make it possible to administer certain interventions, such as neuroprotective drugs, while the patient is on the way to the hospital," Dr. Mackenzie said.

Stroke is the leading cause of serious disability among adults in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Nearly 750,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, yet only a small percentage of those who could benefit from drug therapy currently are able to receive it within the three-hour time window.

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