WRITER: TANIA KLIVEN
CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: March 15, 1999
UI physician assistant students gaining valuable telemedicine experience
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Telemedicine will be a valuable tool for tomorrow's
health care providers, including physician assistants (PAs), according
to the director of the University of Iowa's Physician Assistant Program.
In July 1998 the PA program at the UI received a three-year training
grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide
PA students with telemedicine technology.
To begin educating PA students on telemedicine, a three-session introductory
course was offered at the beginning of the 1999 spring semester. The PA
program developed the curriculum in collaboration with Susan Zollo, director
of the UI Telemedicine Resource Center. This was the first time that a
telemedicine curriculum of this kind has been systematically presented
to PA students at the UI.
"I anticipate telemedicine to be used routinely in the medical
field in the next four to five years. Consequently, we need to prepare
our students to enter practice settings that they are most likely to be
working in, and telemedicine is going to be part of those settings,"
said David Asprey, director of the PA program at the UI.
Telemedicine, in general terms, is the transmission of medical information
and services using telecommunications technology. This can include the
use of two-way interactive video, data and audio communications systems.
In Iowa, this connection typically involves the statewide fiber optic system
known as the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). However, telemedicine also
can be carried out using a standard personal computer and modem.
Telemedicine can be particularly valuable to patients who live in rural
areas which are typically hours away from cities where medical specialists
are usually located. Often patients cannot afford to take time off of work
to visit a specialist. With telemedicine, patients travel to their closest
telecommunications link, which is typically at a hospital, and interact
directly with the specialist. Because PAs generally work in these rural
areas, it is important that they learn about telemedicine, Asprey noted.
Physician assistants are health professionals licensed to practice medicine
with the supervision of a physician. Within the PA/physician relationship,
PAs exercise autonomy in decision-making. They obtain medical histories,
perform physical exams and provide a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic
In the introductory telemedicine course, the PA students received a
broad overview of telemedicine technology, observed demonstrations of video
conferencing and discussed some of the legal and ethical issues surrounding
its use. This included the question of which state medicine is being practiced
when using telemedicine and whether or not the consulting physician is
responsible for providing care for the patient. In addition, the students
were taken to the UI Hospitals and Clinics where they witnessed an interaction
between a patient and a doctor who were separated by more than 100 miles.
"This kind of demonstration gives the student a more concrete idea
of what telemedicine is and how it is used," Asprey said.
At the end of the course the students were asked to evaluate what they
had learned. Perhaps not surprisingly, the evaluations showed that prior
to the course many of the students had minimal to no knowledge of telemedicine.
However, after the course nearly half of all of the students claimed a
moderate to great increase in knowledge, and many said that they were much
more likely to seek out telemedicine opportunities in the future.
More hands-on telemedicine opportunities for the PA students who completed
the introductory sessions are planned in June. This will decrease any intimidation
students may feel toward telemedicine and will educate them on how to run
through their transmissions and how the technology functions.
"Ultimately, we hope that they will catch a vision of the way telemedicine
can augment their practice in rural and remote sites," Asprey said.
The PA program at the UI is considered to be one of the best in the
country, averaging a 99 percent graduation rate since its first class graduated
in 1974. Telemedicine can only strengthen the program further, Asprey said.
"This kind of training is important to PAs because telemedicine
is clearly here to stay and is only going to expand," he said.