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The future of medicine is now
A few years ago optometrist Daren Nygren regularly spent two hours fitting patients for new contact lenses.
Now he spends seconds.
His digital camera records the dimensions of his patients eyes, and turns the information into a topographical map on his computer.
The map translates to a prescription, which he shoots by e-mail to a lense manufacturer.
A week later, patients return for their contacts.
Besides cutting down on what Nygren calls chair time by 70 percent, fitting for lenses is less of a guessing game and more accurate than it used to be.
In the old days I used to have to try a bunch of contact lenses on a patient to find the perfect size, he said, and even that wasnt scientific.
Nygren is one of a number of doctors and hospital workers in Bremerton using the Internet to practice medicine a technique called tele-medicine.
l Currently, Harrison Hospital forwards snap-shots from its emergency rooms to physicians for follow-up appointments.
l X-rays and medical records are converted into computer files and zipped by e-mail in the blink of an eye.
l Doctors find the new technology useful because they can get medical records in seconds instead of days.
The result patients get in and out faster.
Sending stored documents like X-rays over the Internet is one of the most advanced forms of telemedicine in Bremerton, said Dave Olson, Planning Director at Harrison.
He also knows cardiologists in the city who have Internet hook-ups to monitor vital signs of patients in Port Townsend.
Real time technology connected Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) to a technology conference at Bremertons Admiral Theatre July 30.
The audience participated in a ten minute teleconference call with the senators who talked into video cameras in Washington D.C.
The same satellite and Internet technology is now available in a teleconferencing room at Harrison, according to Olson.
He is working with the University of Washington to start a new cardiac services program at Harrison in February, which will offer open-heart surgery to up to 250 patients a year in the greater Kitsap County area.
The transmission of various images and information via the internet will be a key part of getting second opinions and assistance in diagnosis, he said.
Since the Kitsap Public Utilities District completed an 82-mile fiber-optic cable throughout Kitsap County last month, Bremerton is primed for new Internet applications, according to Dr. John Richardson, a local telemedicine analyst and retired neurologist.
What applications actually pop up may depend on what residents ask for.
In eastern Washington, a fiber-optic backbone was installed in 2000.
Immediately, people in a remote city called Ione requested a pharmacy link, said Joe Onley of the Pend Orielle PUD.
The solution a vending machine where patients talk into a camera to a pharmacist 60 to 100 miles away who confirms their prescription.
Seconds later, a new installment of birth control pills, hormone replacements, antibiotics or anti-depressants pops out of the box.
One of the reasons telemedicine is gaining in popularity is because it is becoming affordable, said Richardson. Since he started doing research in 1994, he said the price of equipment has dropped from $50,000 to $1,000 for a complete setup.
Now computer cameras go for $50.