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Release: Immediate

UI to take part in Hong Kong-based global telemedicine conference

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Observers around the world will be watching July 1 as Hong Kong makes the transition from British to Chinese authority. To mark the occasion, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the UI College of Medicine will take part in a worldwide teleconference convened by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Moving with the Sun Global Telemedicine Conference recognizes the change of leadership in Hong Kong while forging links with institutions around the world, says Dr. Patricia Thomas, a UI associate professor of pathology who was invited to participate in the event.

"I think they are looking at the changeover with optimism. This is an effort to extend a hand and showcase their abilities," Thomas says. About 20 international hospitals, medical schools and organizations will contribute.

The 24-hour conference will begin on June 30 at 4 p.m. Hong Kong time with live video links to institutions in Europe. From there, links will shift around the globe every 60 to 90 minutes, first to the Americas, then to Australia and Asia. The UI presentation will begin at about 4:30 p.m. local time, June 30 (6:30 a.m., July 1, in Hong Kong).

The conference will focus on telemedicine -- the transmission of medical information and services from one place to another using telecommunications technology. The UI is an internationally recognized leader in telemedicine research. Its National Laboratory for the Study of Rural Telemedicine is funded by two multimillion-dollar federal contracts.

Thomas and colleague Dr. Stephen Raab, UI assistant professor of pathology, have investigated the viability of telepathology consultations, a subject she will address in her conference presentation. The ability to transmit high-quality images and data electronically could facilitate communication among physicians and offer pathology services to remote hospitals.

Each institution participating in the teleconference will also present general information about local issues, interests and history, making the event as much about building institutional relationships as about surveying the current science.

Thomas visited China in 1984 and again last year, when she delivered a series of lectures in Hong Kong and Shanghai. She notes that while medicine in Hong Kong has long mirrored that of Western nations, mainland China has traditionally lagged behind in technology and resources.

"I was impressed by what China could do with so little," she says, recalling a program of "barefoot doctors" with minimal medical training equipped to serve rural communities in the 1980s. Since then, however, economic reforms have driven a campaign of modernization in China. Facilities remain limited, but China has acquired much of the medical technology common in countries like the United States.

Thomas plans to return to China in 1998 for an international pathology conference. She also hopes to study why breast cancer rates are rising in mainland China while rates in Hong Kong remain similar to those in the West.

Highlights from the global telemedicine conference will be available on the Internet. For more information, visit the conference's World Wide Web site at http://WWW.CSU.MED.CUHK.EDU.HK/telemed/