High-tech Medical Connection to the World

March 1, 2003

Heather Heilman

It's all about building relationships. Antonio Barrios' mission is to enhance Tulane's position as a healthcare resource in Central and South America, which he does by making and strengthening interactions with physicians and healthcare authorities and leaders south of the border.

As director of International Medical Programs, with joint appointments at Tulane Hospital and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Barrios works to develop programs with medical schools in other countries, organize international medical conferences, and provide doctors with services and expertise that might not be easily available in their countries. But long-distance relationships can be challenging.

"I go to meet decision-makers and everyone gets excited about the things we're going to do together," said Barrios. "But sometimes after I return home, the excitement dissipates."

So Barrios was one of the first to appreciate the possibilities in the real-time, online, audio-video technology brought to Tulane by Grant Holcomb last year. The product enables live images of the person on the other end of the connection and establishes an interactive environment in which X- rays or electrocardiograms can be shared, or through which a surgery can be viewed. The whole thing operates through the Internet, so there's no cost to use it. And the technology is available to faculty, staff and students at the health sciences center free of charge, once they purchase the necessary hardware.

"It changes the dynamics of sharing information," said Holcomb, director of biomedical informatics in the Center for Clinical Effectiveness and Prevention. "Every doctor who adopts this becomes another node on a growing network of users, who can then share information," said Holcomb.

Barrios introduced the technology to a doctor in El Salvador who's had a long relationship with Tulane. When a patient ruptured his intestine, the doctor used a televideo consultation with Barrios and Tulane surgeon Bernard Jaffe to discuss how to save as much of the intestine as possible. Convinced that Jaffe had the right approach, the patient flew to New Orleans the next day for surgery.

"I'm planning on setting up units throughout the Americas where doctors can go to listen to conferences and bring difficult or complex cases for discussion," Barrios said.

In December, Barrios facilitated an agreement between Tulane and a business school in Costa Rica to set up a joint master of medical management program. It will draw students from Latin America and allow Tulane to influence the development of healthcare systems throughout the hemisphere, Barrios said. Already, medical groups and hospitals in El Salvador and Guatemala have hosted Tulane medical students on rotations.

"We're able to draw on the resources of the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the faculty and the hospital, so we can touch on any given element of the health sector in Latin America," said Barrios, who has nurtured the relationships between Tulane and Latin America for 14 years.

He wants educators and healthcare providers to see Tulane as a partner and a resource.

"They should feel that they're a part of Tulane," Barrios said. "This new technology will help give us a steady presence in the Americas, so that communication and physicians' access to Tulane will be open 24 hours a day."

Heather Heilman can be reached at

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