ECU’s telemedicine on information superhighway

(Jan. 26, 1994)   —   East Carolina University’s spot on the state’s new information highway network, announced Tuesday, is more akin to a major fuel and service depot than to a highway rest area.

“We are at the forefront in the development of medical applications for use on the information network,” said David C. Balch of the ECU School of Medicine. Balch directs the Center for Health Sciences Communications and is a key player in the development of technology application called “telemedicine.”

In telemedicine, doctors can use communications equipment such as telephone lines, microwave relays and video cameras to examine patient at distant locations. The ECU School of Medicine has already developed these telemedicine links between the campus in Greenville and sites in Ahoskie, Jacksonville and at Central Prison in Raleigh. 

The new information highway will replace the wire and microwave dishes with connecting lines of fiber optic cable. It will help ECU and other medical centers provide telemedicine to rural areas across the state. Education will enjoy the benefits of the network too, according Dr. Diana M. Henshaw of ECU, a member of the N.C. Information Highway Training Subcommittee. Henshaw is the director of the ECU Division of Continuing Education and Summer School and serves as the chairperson for ECU’s Telecommunications Committee. 

“I think it (the information highway) is going to be a wonderful thing,” she said. “It will provide advancements in health care and distance learning and will help establish links with business and industry that we’ve never had before.”

Henshaw said many of the 106 initial sites include public schools and community colleges in rural areas. She said university can be teach courses at these sites over the network. In addition, she said, the sites can be used for in-service training of school teachers and for consultations with local agencies. 

“I expect our faculty to take a new look at ways to use this technology,” Henshaw said. “I think you’ll see universities doing some things we haven’t done before.”

Jane Patterson, Gov. Jim Hunt’s senior advisor, made the announcement that ECU and 105 other sites including would become the first links in the statewide network. Her announcement came during a meeting of county commissioners and school superintendents in Durham. At the same time, Rufus Edmisten gave details about the network during a telecommunications industry trade show in Washington, D.C. The initial sites for the network include schools, prisons, hospitals and medical clinics. Each site will have computers, TV sets and video cameras connected to the other sites using fiber optic cable.

ECU will offer two sites. One is at the medical school and the other is in Joyner Library. The medical school site will provide continuing medical education and clinical consultation while the library will support continuing education and off-campus courses.

The fiber optics will give the sites in the network the capability to send and receive text, sound and motion pictures at high speeds. Southern Bell, GTE Corp. and Carolina Telephone Company are in partnership with the state to develop the highway. These companies own the fiber optic cable and switching equipment used to carry the information from one site to another.

“Telemedicine is a leading application that will drive the highway,” said Balch. He said ECU did more medical consultations with telemedicine last year than any other school or hospital.