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High-speed information technologies developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory can support physicians in remote locations on a new medical information superhighway by providing them with instant information and treatment strategies for their patients.

The new, integrated computing and telecommunications technologies -- representing the first nationwide medical network -- were demonstrated today before members of Congress and the Clinton Administration by the National Information Infrastructure Testbed, a non-profit consortium of corporations, universities and government agencies committed to translating the vision into reality.

"Right now, a revolution in the way we plan and deliver medical care is knocking on our door, and NASA's going to be in the front ranks of that revolution," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "We'll merge our unique skills with those of the other major players to create innovative technology and engineering solutions."

The demonstration in Washington, D.C., showed how ground and satellite communications and supercomputing technologies can be applied to fundamentally alter the delivery of critical medical care and expertise to geographically dispersed sites throughout the country, said Edward Chow, technical manager of the telemedicine demonstration at JPL.

"More importantly, the communications technologies could have a profound impact on the quality of medical care available to patients living in small or rural towns hours away from a medical facility," he said.

JPL, a member of the National Information Infrastructure Testbed, developed the concept for the telemedicine demonstration and played a lead role in harnessing the communications and computing technologies necessary for this type of information infrastructure.

JPL served as the overall system integrator for the demonstration, providing the graphical user interface, video teleconferencing technology, supercomputing capabilities together with Cray Research Inc. and the high-speed, wide area communications protocol to integrate information from contributing members.

The demonstration simulated an emergency trauma situation in which a patient on vacation in a remote area of the Southern California desert was badly injured in an automobile accident. Satellite communications allowed the rural hospital to communicate with trauma specialists at the University of Southern California (USC) Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The patient was then transported to USC where she received specialized treatment from her personal physician at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., via the high-speed fiber optic network.

"Using this communications network, the patient's medical records were remotely accessed while critical medical images were shared by specialists in diagnosing her medical condition," Chow said. "Real-time consultation was carried out be teleconferencing and the patient received an agreed-upon treatment."

"This demonstration illustrates the many ways in which technologies developed for the space program can be harnessed to enrich the lives of people," said JPL Director Dr. Edward C. Stone, who participated in a panel discussion of the telemedicine demonstration.

The National Information Infrastructure Testbed pointed out myriad benefits of the networking technology to improve the quality and delivery of medical services, including:

-- Improved analysis tools to prevent expensive and sometimes unnecessary medical procedures;

-- Timely delivery of lab results and expedient treatment;

-- Real-time processing of health insurance claims and the reduction of paperwork and overhead costs;

-- Improving collaboration of primary and specialized health care physicians using new, high-speed data communications techniques;

-- Extending quality health care to underserved and unserved areas of the country.

Plans are under way for phase two of the telemedicine demonstration, which will involve a number of organizations that will be given the opportunity to develop and evaluate real-world applications of the technology, such as administration, telemedicine, teleradiology, treatment planning and access to medical records in real time.

The testbed will also help physicians assess the barriers that still exist today in providing nationwide health care, barriers such as the practice of medicine across state boundaries.

Participants in today's telemedicine demonstration included AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Hughes Aircraft Corporation, IBM, Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, JPL's Telecommunications Systems Division, Network Systems Corporation, Pacific Bell, Polaroid Corporation, Sandia National Laboratories, SynOptics Communications, WilTel, the USC Medical Center and USC Advanced Biotechnical Consortium.

JPL's work in the telemedicine demonstration was sponsored by NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications; Office of Space Access and Technology; and Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

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