For a few years now our outpatient clinic had completely adapted electronic medical records. No more paper charts, no more big bulky x-ray films, and no more illegible written prescriptions handed to the patients.
Aside from the stethoscope that hangs around my neck, I lug with me a small computer tablet when I go in to see patients in every examining room. Their records from my office, from other doctors’ office, from the hospital, their laboratory works, and their imaging studies (chest x-ray, CT scans, PET scans images) are accessed at the tip of my stylus pen. The prescriptions are directly sent electronically from my tablet to the pharmacy’s fax.
Last month, one outlying hospital outside of the city I worked in, have invited me for a demonstration, as they are about to launch their project in telemedicine. What telemedicine is, is seeing patients from distance away through video-conferencing.
The patient sits in an examining room in front of a large TV monitor and a camera, in a hospital or a clinic miles away, while I sit in my clinic here in town in front of my computer screen. I control the camera which can zoom with such high-resolution to see clearly even the pupils(eye) of the patient. A nurse at the patient’s room can place the special stethoscope on the patient and I can hear the heart and lung sounds in such high-definition through my headphone set. There are even special scopes that I can look into the patient’s ears, nose and mouth (without smelling their breath!) all through my computer monitor.
The telemedicine project’s goal is to bring the services of physicians of different specialties in areas that don’t have them, without having the patient or the doctor leave their locale. The future implications are limitless. Maybe someday I will be in my home pad in Manila or better yet in one of the beautiful beaches in the Philippines (as long as there is satellite signal), while I see patients somewhere half a world away. I know robotic surgery (surgical robots controlled by humans) is still in its infancy. But who knows, someday surgery will be done while the surgeon is not even in the operating room!
Technology is good…… that is, if they are working properly.
Last week, while I was seeing patients, my computer screen keeps on freezing and crashing. I had to reboot it several times, delaying me for many minutes, that it made my patience run thin. Finally I called our clinic manager to give me another computer and have mine fix by IT, before it literally crashes to the floor (deliberately!) and before I give it the real boot (kick it with the heel of my shoes!).
In the future, what if a doctor is performing a delicate procedure or a life-saving intervention through telemedicine technology, and all of a sudden the connection is lost or the computer crashes? Scary thought huh?
This reminds me of Apollo 13 and the famous words: “Houston (or insert name of place here), we have a problem.” With all the advancement of technology, sadly to say, Murphy’s law still applies — If anything can go wrong, it will.
How difficult indeed it is to be in the middle of a delicate telemedicine procedure, and the signal is out! Telemedicine experts are doing their best to make signals and technology work so that doctors can examine their patients without problems.