President Clinton's visit to China at the end of June latest, offered a beautiful occasion to demonstrate the first telemedical live consultation via the Internet between the Chinese doctors of Xian Medical University and a team of American Stanford University paediatricians, who are practising at Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital. A group of senior federal officials and congress members from the United States, together with the Vice Governor of ShaanXi Province and the Mayor of Xian, attended the session and experienced how telemedicine constitutes an ideal instrument for remote diagnosis and treatment of critically ill, little Chinese patients.
China has always showed an attentive interest on the telemedical front. Already in 1993, the "Golden Bridge" initiative has been launched by the Chinese government to interconnect all major computers, available at the institutional, economic, medical, educational and financial organizations throughout the country. In 1996, ambitious plans transpired to supply the People's Liberation Army hospitals with Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) links for telecommunication speeds at rates of 155 Mbps.
The first time, the Internet was used by the Chinese people for telemedical diagnosis, is situated in February 1995. At that time, the Institute of Medical Information (IMI), which in fact constitutes an information resource for the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, issued an SOS for diagnosis of a seriously ill peasant girl. The call for help was responded by over 200 reactions from medical specialists around the world, after which the patient's life could be saved.
This year, on Friday, June 26th at 9.30 am local time in Xian, engineers have established a link to the China Education and Research Network (CERNET), thus offering a path to the global Internet for a team of Chinese physicians for tele-consultation with their American colleagues. Various Chinese health and technical institutions participated in the project, including the Institute of Medical Information and Peking Union Medical College. On the American side, the initiative was supervised by AT&T Foundation, Bridge to Asia, and Sun Microsystems, the company which supplied the technology and computer knowhow.
Both the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley offered public domain Internet videoconferencing tools to enable audio and visual exchange, as well as whiteboard applications. Interactive transmission and manipulation of medical images was equally provided for. According to the participants, the two parties can benefit from the project. This way of international and specialized health care delivery is affordable, efficient, and right at hand, for China and many other countries. In turn, American experts are given a chance to learn more about rare diseases, not encountered in the USA.
Instead of turning this initiative into a one-shot operation, Sun Microsystems will make the workstations available to Xian Medical University and other faculties via Bridge to Asia, in order to guarantee the continuity of the telemedical project. Concrete plans are being made to install a virtual emergency room, so that cases from rural areas can be transferred to Xian Medical University for tele-consultation and diagnosis over the World Wide Web between medical experts. Just imagine to which useful co-operations a presidential visit can inspire ...