State Sen. Majority Leader
State Sen. Ronald Stafford, right, speaking on video monitor from Plattsburgh, participates in a news conference unveiling the Adirondack Area Network. Seated in a room at the Albany campus of The Sage Colleges are, from left, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno; Lee Brawaite, vice president and general manager of Bell Atlantic operations in northeastern New York and a member of the Medical Center's Board of Directors; and James J. Barba, president and chief officer and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Medical Center. Jeanne H. Neff, president of Sage, is standing in rear.

The Next Best Thing to being There

Revolutionary telemedicine network unveiled.

The power of a new telecommunications initiative was obvious at a recent news conference that linked by videoconference Albany Med, The Sage Colleges and educational sites in the North Country.

"What's happening here is truly revolutionary," said state Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, pointing out that the Adirondack Area Network constitutes a new form of videoconferencing, data-transmission and Internet-linking. It is more practical than previous approaches because it provides clearer, more stable images and electronic transmissions at a lower cost, Bruno said.

At the May 1 news conference, officials from Albany Med, Sage and two Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) sites in the North Country (Malone and Plattsburgh) joined state leaders and representatives from the Bell Atlantic Foundation to herald their new network as a breakthrough in communications for education, health-care research and other organizations in the Capital Region and the Adirondacks. More than 50 organizations are linked in the AAN, including Adirondack Medical Center, Elizabethtown Community Hospital and Champlain Valley Physician's Hospital, which have been involved in early programs over the network.

The $1.36 million network, labeled the "next generation in telecommunications" and a "model for information networks in the United States," was funded by the Bell Atlantic Foundation through the New York State Advanced Telecommunications Project Diffusion Fund Committee.

The network offers an opportunity for the Medical Center to expand its reach and provide a variety of educational programs to hospitals and other health-care providers in the Adirondacks. "As the region's only academic health sciences center, the Albany Medical Center has the responsibility to share its expertise and resources with all those who could benefit from it, particularly health-care providers, organizations and their patients based in rural, remote regions of the state," said James J. Barba, the Medical Center's president and chief executive officer and chairman of the Board of Directors.

"The Adirondack Area Network provides us with the means to fulfill this mission of providing the best possible patient care, medical education and research through a variety of multipoint educational forums as well as through direct consultations with physicians and patients in the North Country," Mr. Barba added.

Mr. Barba said that in this particular application, known as telemedicine, the telecommunications network Will be used to link providers in the Adirondacks with specialists in Albany for second opinions on diagnostic scans and biological and pathological specimens.

Henry Pohl, M.D., senior associate dean for education programs, is chairman of the Beebe Education Network, as the Albany Med "leg" of the AAN is called. Dr. Pohl demonstrated the clarity of image transmission by showing a radiological scan of a patient's gastrointestinal tract. "The quality is good enough to make a diagnosis," he said. Dr. Pohl worked with the designer of the network, David Bonner, Ph.D., of Sage, to help make the system a reality.

The Beebe network is named after Richard T. Beebe, M.D., distinguished professor of medicine, who attended the demonstration at the Albany Med site in Huyck Auditorium. Also in attendance was Herbert Liebich, a patient and friend of Dr. Beebe who funded the Beebe network, and members of the state diffusion fund committee.

The Beebe network was designed to improve patient care by offering a variety of educational programs to various North Country providers and organizations, as well as to promote basic and clinical research initiatives. It also is expected to support the development of the Medical Center's primary care network and enhance relationships with community physicians through its videoconferencing and data-transmission applications.

For example, community physicians eventually will be able to use the system to review a patient's lab work done at the Medical Center and gather other vital information about a particular case. In addition, Medical Center physicians will be able to directly interview patients and their physicians. Now, much of this communication is done by telephone and mail.

"The Medical Center provides health care and health education, supports health-care professionals and conducts research," Dr. Pohl noted. "This network will help us do all of these things even better."

With the network, lectures, meetings and teaching sessions will be able to be accessed at various videoconferencing sites throughout the region and North Country. The network is much less expensive to operate less than $1,000 per month than existing teleconferencing systems. It requires no fiber connections, which means quality images are transmitted over Bell Atlantic's existing frame-relay system. It's portable, which means a patient may be able to see and speak with a family member who is unable to visit the Hospital.

Already, the AAN has allowed North Country students to take virtual field trips to the Indianapolis Zoo and Henry Ford Museum, and provided a vital communications link after the January ice storm between state officials in Albany and North Country communities.

In addition, various other types of meetings, consultations and educational forums have been broadcast over the network, including last fall's Ethics Symposium at Albany Med, which was viewed by physicians and administrators at the Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

Lee A. Brathwaite, vice president and general manager of Bell Atlantic operations in northeastern New York and a member of the Medical Center's Board of Directors, said, "Just as the telephone brought down geographic barriers to communication between residents of the Adirondacks and the Capital District, this frame-relay network will bring down geographic barriers to enhanced education and medical care throughout the region."

Jeanne H. Neff, president of The Sage Colleges, summed up the new technology with these words. "This network will forever change the way we learn, teach, do business and get information in New York state."

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