Technological innovations have changed the nature of the patient-doctor relationship. Health care consumers now have a wealth of health information at their fingertips. Health care professionals now have new methods of communicating with their patients and clients. Health care providers like hospitals and clinics are using high-speed internet and wireless applications for public health education and to educate young people by videoconferencing with schools. In "Wired for Wellness", the third segment of What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, we examine the effectiveness of these new technologies in health education.
WKSU's Vivian Goodman reports:
(Video Courtesy The Cleveland Clinic)
Sitting in a darkened auditorium they speak in excited whispers as they watch and wait.
In their gleaming white lab coats they look like doctors...very young ones.
Then up pop the real doctors on the giant screen.
"Good morning and welcome we're in operating room 44 over at the Cleveland clinic obviously and its our pleasure today to share with you an operation we're going to do . This is a woman in her seventies who has severe heart ..."
Watch the entire video online:
35 students at John Hay High School for Science and Medicine are watching open heart surgery...live...thanks to the latest interactive videoconferencing technology.
It's a civic education initiative of the Cleveland Clinic. One of the many ways health educators are using a new broadband communications network called Onecommunity that links more than 300 of the region's hospitals, libraries, museums and schools.
Most of the students watching today's aortic valve replacement hope to be surgeons themselves someday.
"Yeah there you can see that little black hole we're just gonna close that hole by sewing it shut ..."
Thoracic surgeon Joseph Sabik can teach a 9th grade biology class without ever leaving his OR. While he snips away at a diseased heart, his audience is about 10 blocks away.
"What does the heart do? Someone must know something. Somebody's got to guess. Take your guess. It pumps blood? Okay. How does it pump blood? Does anybody have an idea how it pumps blood? Because it beats, you're right the heart beats, there's muscle that contracts. Now why does the heart go one way?..."
9th grader Tonya Merchant has seen four live surgeries this school year.
"You seeing the real thing and not just a picture its like live and everything so I say its better than a book and better than a teacher cause you can see with your own eyes and make your own judgment about it, so."
"This is not just about training our kids this is about the whole life cycle of health care management and health care education. "
Mark Ansboury, Chief Operating Officer of OneCommunity, says one example is Metrohealth Medical Center and the Cuyahoga County Library System using the network to educate seniors .
"Typically they don't go to their doctors on a regular basis but then something happens and they wind up in the emergency room and with our growing aging population we need to look at ways of pro-actively managing that care. "
Over the next 6 to 9 months, OneCommunity will host another pilot project called the Second Life Platform. It's a virtual Three-D web connecting Case Western Reserve University with schools, hospitals and community centers. Health care consumers will soon enter this virtual world space as Avatars, as in a video game, not only to research their health care needs, but also to review their health care records and even consult with doctors in real time about diet and exercise.
CWRU's Chief Information Officer Lev Gonick says wireless video conferencing is already being used to help homebound diabetics in the inner-city:
"Old style Marcus Welby home visit except that the doctor is still sitting in her office."
The patient can relax on her front porch wearing a device that monitors her vital signs. Gonick says the only other equipment is a web camera and a television set:
" Which allows the patient whose in the community to simply press on and up comes the doctor who is waiting for them back at university hospitals or metro health and of course that gives the patient the opportunity to say you know I've had this particular ache and pain and actually being able to show it but not having to spend the time obviously commuting to the doctors office spending time in the doctors office waiting room."
Susan Wentz of Case Western Reserve's Urban Health Education Center is logging on to the website she helps run. :
"For every topic as you can see if you look over to the right side of the topic there's something called an ask an expert. There's a place for a person to ask their question and then after you've written the question you title it and hit submit and that's it."
The Netwellness website provides Health and wellness information from the faculties of the Universities of Cincinnati, Ohio State and Case Western Reserve. It's been up and running for 12 years but Wentz says it wasn't until the development of high speed broadband technology that it's really taken off.
" In the beginning every month we got about twenty-five thousand hits a month and in those days it was more from a regional audience now today 8 million hits a month and its worldwide."
"I noticed in red on this page this is not an emergency service." "Exactly, that's a really important thing we want our visitors to know this is not medical care, its not medical advice, its medical information. This is something to use to help you work better with your doctors to ask the right questions to get timely care to do things in your own life but if you need information in an emergency fashion or in an urgent fashion pick up the phone call your doctor and get the help you need. "Use the old fashioned technology".... "Yes exactly. "
"Hello, welcome . You have successfully accessed the tools to produce fully immersive video, web and mobile-ready content featuring a customized talking digital host. "
Stacy Williams, a speech pathologist at Case Western Reserve University, introduces us to our virtual host, an animated woman who blinks her eyes and nods her head as if she's really there with us:
"The nice part about this particular piece of software is just a click of a button I can change her and make her a man or we can make her a child or anything we want. So it holds possibilities for us in the future we're excited."
They're even more excited about the new speech lab where they'll use some of these animated videos . They call it VIXSR.
"Which stands for the virtual emergence center for simulation research."
It's a kind of interactive theater that just opened on the CWRU campus. People with speech and hearing problems walk in and approach a variety of wall-sized projections...Today it's the counter of a fast-food restaurant with actors who appear to listen and talk to us. It's a new way to learn how to communicate in a virtual real-life situation. Like ordering a cheeseburger.
"Would you like fries with that?"
As patients progress the therapist can make the counter girl get a little testy, or put in other challenging distractions like babies crying, cell phones ringing, people sneezing.
"Their therapist is actually located outside of this therapy environment. They are sitting at a command station which has a series of computers in front of it monitoring a variety of things. There are video cameras located within the theaters that are actually pointing and recording the client."
On the floor of the virtual McDonalds there's a green box with wires coming out of it attached to biofeedback probes:
"They actually go on the clients fingers and what it measures is their heart rate and skin temperature cause this tells us how real they are responding to it."
Williams says the VIXSR lab's new technology addresses one of the biggest challenges in speech language pathology: getting clients to transfer the skills they learn in a clinic setting to the outside world.
Case Western Reserve's Lev Gonick says health concerns are a huge driver to adoption of broadband internet connectivity. He thinks Northeast Ohio will get the latest innovations and become the model for the rest of the country because of what he calls our sense of the value of community.
"A sense that we are facing significant challenges where we have to come together. Here in Northeast Ohio there is a community that is connected to each other, collaborating with each other and engaged in the reinvention of how to use technology to address priorities like health care education."
I'm Vivian Goodman, 89.7, WKSU