Utah physicians could begin treating Armenian earthquake victims as early as next month via a "telemedicine space bridge" linking the United States and the Soviet Republic of Armenia.
Medical experts from LDS Hospital and the University of Utah Health Sciences Center are participating with NASA and three other U.S. medical facilities in creating and implementing the linkage."All this is being done for humanitarian reasons, but also with the opportunity to get experience with what we think will be new technology in medicine in the future," Dr. Terry P. Clemmer said in a press conference Thursday.
Clemmer, chief of critical care medicine at LDS Hospital and associate professor of medicine at the U., was one of four U.S. medical specialists who recently returned from Russia and Armenia.
After meeting with representatives from the USSR Ministry of Health and visited Soviet hospitals and rehabilitation centers, the delegation signed a letter of agreement to make U.S. medical expertise available to the practicing physicians in Armenia.
"During Phase I (of the earthquake), there's a big international effort to come in and rescue the victims from the rubble and do the immediate care," Clemmer said. "But what a lot of people don't realize is that the aftermath of an earthquake goes on for several months."
The telemedicine space bridge will provide medical consultation to support rehabilitation of spinal cord and head injuries, reconstructive surgery, infectious disease and chronic soft tissue infections and the epidemiological problems beginning to surface with the spring thaw.
Water supply contamination is expected to be a big problem.
The physician explained that the space bridge will use satellite links donated by Comsat Corp. and Intelsat. NASA will provide a compatible satellite ground terminal to be installed in Yerevan to link the Armenian physicians with the U.S. medical facilities.
The link will have two-way audio and one-way video capabilities, which means that consulting Utah physicians, stationed at LDS Hospital at predetermined times, will actually be able to see the patients on television.
"I think we can get a lot of information if we have a good cameraman holding the cameras in the right place, focusing on the right spot," Clemmer said. "But it's obviously not as good as being able to touch and feel and all those other things we do in medicine which are very important."
Clemmer said the consultation from American physicians will be an a boost to Soviet doctors, whose medical system has been overwhelmed by several natural disasters.
Utah doctors could also gain information invaluable should a similar disaster occur locally.
LDS Hospital will be the local linking facility.
Other participating facilities are the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.; University of Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System in Baltimore, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.