While talk of international telemedicine usually involves what America can do for the world, there is plenty of expertise the U.S. would do well to tap, says a military medical man who made a career of doing so.
Brigadier Gen. Russ Zajtchuk, M.D., says one of his aims as commander of the U.S. Army's medical research and development operation was to "create a virtual worldwide network with key experts in all areas of research."
Zajtchuk has the same world view in mind as he retires to the private sector after 27 years in a number of academic, staff and command positions. His experience includes directing initiatives in advanced tele-communication technologies and biomedical research for war and peace.
In June he becomes vice president for advanced technologies and international health at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.
U.S. academic hospitals have long collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defense on technological innovation, but foreign countries have contributed much to the mix, Zajtchuk says.
Researchers have gone to Brazil, Kenya, Peru and Thailand to study infectious diseases that are not found in the U.S. but could be as devastating as enemy fire in troop deployments.
Medical research in other countries also has yielded advances that the American medical community could use. For example, Zajtchuk says, Russian experts have experimented with a biological state similar to hibernation that could suspend critical complications and delay death until more can be done for a patient.
Private healthcare also can adapt battlefield advances to improve medical intervention and shorten response time in rural America as well as internationally, he says.
One example is an Army-developed Life Support and Trauma Transport System, a module complete with ventilation, defibrillation and oxygen-generating capability. Besides being surrounded by the benefits of a hospital in the field, a soldier -- or a rural accident victim -- doesn't have to be disconnected and reconnected at the destination, because the transport becomes an operating platform.
The same concept can be used to create other mobile platforms, such as breast-care centers, that can be provided to companies for a fee. Digital mammograms can be sent anywhere in the world, and referrals for treatment can be made on the spot, he says.
As chief operating officer for the Department of Defense Telemedicine Testbed, the retiring general says his knowledge of satellite communications and contacts throughout the world will come in handy to develop collaborative partnerships on a world scale and form consortia with industry and government agencies.
"Rush could become a world center where tomorrow's medicine is being practiced today," he says.