Defense and child health group partner on telemedicine project

The Defense Department is building a virtual hospital in poor countries to link skilled doctors in the United States with children overseas suffering with terminal illnesses.

This month, DOD's Partnership for Peace Information Management Systems program will begin installing a multisite telemedicine video and data network with equipment donated by Polycom Inc. of Silver Spring, Md. The equipment will be set up at hospitals in several countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania and Turkmenistan.

'The program is working to establish a network of subject matter experts through public, private and academic teaming that will satisfy transformation of military education and training priorities and benefit general public health issues,' said Rita Purcell-Robertson, medical readiness specialist at PIMS.

The effort will expand a successful pilot PIMS has run in two other countries.

PIMS uses IT to foster cooperation between the United States and other countries. DOD and other federal agencies, such as the departments of Energy, Justice and State, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency, and partner countries are developing databases and other IT initiatives on topics of mutual and regional concern.

In addition to the telemedicine program, PIMS conducts more than a dozen other projects, such as maintaining a Web site for the Consortium of Defense Academies and Security Studies Institutes at the Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. The consortium is made up of 200 organizations in 42 countries. PIMS designed and maintains its Web site and provides IT support at consortium conferences.

IP at bedside

PIMS also provides IT support to a military law enforcement initiative through Justice to prevent international crime and to improve military and civilian security. PIMS provides for secure, unclassified data exchange between several military law enforcement agencies.

In the telemedicine project, PIMS is working with Medical Missions for Children, a nonprofit that provides medical expertise to terminally ill children around the world. Program workers hook up videoconferencing equipment at hospitals abroad and in 14 medical facilities in the United States, allowing doctors to communicate online.

'We're creating a virtual bridge, and we're sending all kinds of information over this bridge,' said Frank Brady, founder and chairman of Medical Missions, based in Paterson, N.J.

The program uses commercial satellites leased by DOD for communication with each country. The video and data network will let doctors transfer patients' X-ray records, scans and other images.

In the pilot, U.S. doctors have treated hundreds of children in distant countries. In treating a terminally ill child, a doctor in a foreign country will present his patient's case to a U.S. doctor, Brady said.

After the U.S. doctor examines the child via videoconferencing and looks over the child's records, the doctor offers a diagnosis and treatment options.

PIMS, based in Chantilly, Va., was established in 1995 to offer hardware and software support to further NATO goals, said Amy Douglass, PIMS project analyst.

Douglass said PIMS conducted a telemedicine pilot in the Republic of Georgia and Uzbekistan. Now, it is expanding the project to nine more countries.

'We encourage collaborative development in the belief that IT is the best vehicle to improve health care for the people in the partnership nations,' Douglass said.

'We've probably helped 500 to 600 kids already,' Brady said of the Medical Missions and PIMS partnership. 'The children we help are catastrophically ill. These are kids, many of them are dying.'

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