This is one in a series of occasional interviews with O.D.s in the Forefrontoptometrists who are advancing the profession in unique ways.

Glenn Hammack, O.D., M.S.H.I., is the president of NuPhysicia, a new private telemedicine network thats an offshoot of the telemedicine program at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), of which Dr. Hammack is executive director.

Glenn Hammack, O.D., M.S.H.I.
Q. What exactly is a telemedicine network?

A. Our approach, for both NuPhysicia and UTMB, is to deliver primary care medicine and specialty medicine services using live interactive video. In circumstances when its difficult for the patient to see the doctor, we bring the doctor to the patient.

We provide almost all the elements of a primary physical, as well as the workup and follow-up services before and after medical procedures. Using live video teleconferencing and data networking, the patient interacts in real time with the doctor. The doctor can look in the patients ears, up the nose, check the patients skin, and listen to the patients heart and lungs with an electronic stethoscope.

The equipment can be carried on site in a portable suitcase, or permanently installed. To facilitate the exam, a paramedic or a nurse is always physically next to the patient, so it isnt hands-off telemedicine. The patient can then walk away with a prescription in hand.

The UTMB network currently handles about 60,000 patient encounters a year. The doctors are based here in Galveston, but they see patients in places all over the world. That might be an inmate in prison, a passenger on a cruise ship, a driller on an offshore oil rig, an employee at a manufacturing plant, a resident in a retirement community, a scientist stationed at the South Pole, or just a patient in an underserved rural area.

Were simply using new technology to make old-fashioned house calls.

Q. What is optometrys role in telemedicine?

A. While I have a degree in health informatics, what has also helped me in this role has been my clinical background in optometry. Optometrists have a lot to offer telemedicine with our particular approach to patient care, and its important for us to stay involved not only in the future of optometry but also in the future of medicine.

In terms of telemedicine technology, we dont yet have the right tools to provide full primary eye care. Once we do, I think optometry will be very well suited to telemedicine.

This is not about grabbing patients from another optometrists territory. If anything, this is a way for those optometrists who have dedicated themselves to rural or multi-location practices to spend a lot less time behind the wheel of a car and reach patients who otherwise have difficult access to eye care.

Vol. No: 145:09Issue: 9/15/2008