Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 3, 2000
Contact: Dave Nelson
(512) 463-0112

E-MEDICINE BRINGS BOTH OPPORTUNITIES, CHALLENGES

As a late-blooming computer user, I consider it real personal growth that phrases like e-mail, e-banking and e-commerce don't frighten me anymore.

But when I first heard about the concept of e-medicine, I must admit that the panic button went off in my baby boomer brain. Call me old-fashioned but the thought of a doctor examining a patient by computer link seemed like something out of a science fiction novel.

Then, like with other new technological trends, I started learning. And while I still have my reservations, I have to say that there are tremendous possibilities with this medical phenomenon.

Telemedicine, as it is called in medical circles, is the practice of medicine over distance with the use of telecommunications equipment. Under that definition, it is a practice as old as the telephone.

In fact, some people believe telemedicine can be traced back to Alexander Graham Bell himself. His first telephone call was a plea for medical aid because he had spelled acid on himself while tinkering in the lab.

Through the years, telemedicine has evolved from doctors consulting one another over the phone to a much more sophisticated information exchange. As new technology continues to become available, these consultations have become so advanced that a doctor in Lubbock could forward actual X-rays, CT scans and other patient test results via satellite to a doctor in Dallas with the stroke of a few computer keys. In fact, there is even a capability for doctors to meet with patients through a video link.

With this technology, we are seeing more and more opportunities open up for Texas. For example, we are currently using this type of technology to provide health care in some Texas prisons. In 1994, a health maintenance organization was established specifically for inmates with two of the state's medical schools

As you can imagine, the cost of providing basic care is significant, and paying specialists to make in-house visits to each special medical case would be even an even greater cost to the taxpayers. Through telemedicine, however, prison doctors can forward test results to specialists and receive their opinions on a quicker and more cost-effective basis.

Another potential benefit lies in our rural areas, where it is proving difficult to attract and retain general practice physicians, let alone specialists.

In West Texas, the Hart Independent School District Clinic is the only health care option for miles around. As part of a pilot program, the school district recently purchased a piece of equipment known as a TeleDoc.

The system comes with a video link for consultations between the school nurse and doctors in the Department of Pediatrics at Texas Tech Health Science Center and other specialists. It also comes with miniature cameras to probe into ears, noses and throats of the patients.

The overriding theme of this phenomenon is bringing the doctor to patients rather than the other way around.

Although telemedicine has already proven itself an integral health care tool, it might be a hard pill to swallow for some Texans. In the coming weeks, our Senate Health Services Committee will be conducting an investigation into how we can best use this technology in Texas and into the policy considerations this technology raises.

While I am enthusiastic about the enormous potential the virtual world holds for medicine in Texas, I am certain that technology cannot and should not be a replacement for the human contact of a medical exam.

Remember, there may be such a thing as e-medicine, but there's no such thing as virtual health.

Senator Nelson represents Senate District 12, which includes parts of Dallas, Denton, Ellis and Tarrant counties.

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