Diagnosing disease from a distance

GW’s Department of Emergency Medicine has established a new fellowship in the field of telemedicine in hopes of expanding the University’s work in the emerging field of practicing medicine remotely.

A practice of medicine used when the doctor and patient are widely separated, telemedicine uses two-way voice and visual communication by satellite or computer. The physicians in the fellowship, according to Dr. Neal Sikka, assistant professor and director of innovative practice, will learn how to deliver care remotely, and how to develop and implement telemedicine programs, as well as research.

“We use phone, e-mail and video to provide medical care on ships at sea,” Sikka said as an example of a function of telemedicine. “Telemedicine has also grown into tele-health – home monitoring of labs, physiologic parameters like heart rate, EKG, blood pressure, glucose, and now mobile health, utilizing the cell phone to provide medical care, monitoring and diagnostics.”

With the new technology, patients on ships in Antarctica can be examined by doctors in the District, Sikka noted.

Sikka said the decision to start a fellowship at the University came partly due to good timing; telemedicine is currently a notably expanding field.

“We have a long history of providing services in the area, the time is ripe for explosion in telemedicine, and we want to train future leaders,” Sikka said. “I think this shows our commitment to be leaders in this area.”

The Department of Emergency Medicine has begun accepting applications for the fellowship.

“Emergency medicine is working toward developing a leadership position in health care innovation,” Dr. Robert Shesser, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, said in an e-mail. “We believe that advances in communication technology and information systems will revolutionize the delivery of health care as we know it.”

Though uncommon, Shesser said this new program will help train future leaders and innovators in health care.

“In addition, globalization, which has already affected many industries, has not yet had a major impact in health care, but will do so in the future,” Shesser said.

The fellowship is the latest addition to the telemedicine services offered at the University, which already has Maritime Medical Access, which provides ships at sea with medical information; Global Health Services, which offers medical support around the world; and Medical Escort Program, which helps patients travel either between hospitals or to home.

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