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Medical Centers in Austria, U.S. Join in Unique Satellite, Computer Research Collaboration to Improve Patient Care

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

VIENNA, Austria -- The medical strengths of two leading academic hospitals in different countries will be "combined" in a unique research collaboration, officials from Duke University Medical Center and University of Vienna Medical Center announced Thursday. The collaboration, the scope of which has never been attempted between hospitals in Europe and America, may establish a prototype model for eventual globalization of medical care, they said.

During a press conference, physicians from both hospitals demonstrated how real-time satellite and computer communication and research can help improve patient care, as well as control costs, in each country.

The medical centers have agreed to instantaneously share patient treatment information using hundreds of online bedside computers, located in each hospital. Physicians and nurses will confer regularly via satellite, and this virtual link also will be used to train physicians and medical students in new techniques. The officials said they eventually hope to extend this new form of medical information-sharing to struggling hospitals in Eastern Europe, and to invite medical centers in other countries into the collaboration.

"This is the first time university hospitals in two different countries have agreed to a long-term scientific study to compare and contrast their care of patients in order to improve quality and efficiency, and we want to share this information internationally," said Dr. Mark Rogers, head of Duke University Hospital. "National borders no longer exist in the quest to improve health care globally."

"Austria has an outstanding health care system, but we are starting to feel great pressures about the financing of it," said Professor Michael Zimpfer, M.D., chairman of the department of anesthesiology and general intensive care at the University of Vienna Medical Center. "That means we have to undertake vigorous efforts to reach greatest clinical efficiency, and this kind of collaboration will help us."

In the first stage of the Duke-Vienna project, critical care, intensive care unit administration, and infectious disease care will be studied at each of the hospitals. More than 500 compatible computer workstations will be used to research patient treatment outcomes in neuroscience and anesthesia.

The hospitals have much in common, Zimpfer and Rogers said. The AKH, as the 2,200-bed Austrian hospital is known, and Duke's 1,124-bed hospital, are among the largest teaching hospitals in Europe and the United States. Each possesses their country's greatest number of Hewlett-Packard bedside computers, which streamlines the gathering, studying, and sharing of information. By setting up telemedicine satellite relay stations in both hospitals, administrators say they are committed to the promise of cost-effective video-based patient services.

"We in American medicine have much to learn from physicians in other countries, and vice versa," Rogers said. U.S. physicians could benefit from manpower efficiencies built into the Austrian health care system, as well as potentially different ways of treating patients, he said, because the Austrian system is proficient and innovative in its use of equipment, medications and medical personnel.

Austrian doctors will tap U.S. expertise in biomedical and clinical research methods, as well as different medical training techniques, because American medicine is rich in staff knowledgeable in both clinical and research techniques, Zimpfer said. Duke University Medical Center is a world leader in the use of computer technology to assess quality patient treatment, he added; for example, the Duke Databank for Cardiovascular Diseases, the largest cardiac research center in the United States, conducts clinical trials that include more than 1,000 hospitals representing all continents.

"This interactive link with one of the U.S.'s leading hospitals opens the door to a new era in clinical research and teaching in Austria," Zimpfer said. "It's an effort to assure that every patient receives the best treatment that is possible at any given time."

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