ATA 2008 Meeting

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is "the leading resource and advocate promoting access to medical care for consumers and health professionals via telecommunications technology." This year, the annual international meeting and expo took place in Seattle, April 6-8. The 2200 attendees could choose from 450 concurrent oral presentations to listen to, along with 10 plenaries, a poster session and many other meetings and forums. During the conference days, more than 150 companies and associations presented their telemedicine solutions and technological development in the Expo area of the Seattle Convention Center.
The majority of the presentations were related to the military (e.g. funded by the DoD or DARPA). There were less technological talks, many people introduced results from field tests or actual medical applications. (Such as the telemedicine efforts to recover disaster stoke areas, the mobile robotic visiting doctor, or long distance telementoring). There were two sessions partially dealing with robotics. I learned more about the HIFU (high intensity focused ultra-sound) robot of ENERGID Ltd. that will reach the market soon. It is based on a Harvard manipulator, and capable of navigating the US probe around the skin, applying the same pressure (with hybrid position-force control). I was very happy to see a presentation on the Raven robot from the University of Washington, on the NEEMO 12 mission it took part in, and meet the professionals of the SRI who developed the M7 surgical robot and tested it in space recently. They have excellent video and image materials on their website.
Among the plenaries, probably the best was Lee Woodruff writer's talk about the touching story how his husband lost half of his head due to an exploding IAD in Iraq, and recovered later with the help of telemedicine.
It was a little disappointing that the two third of the exhibitors at the Expo offered simple wireless, telecom based health solutions. There were useful devices as well, e.g. wireless glucometers, but only a few with real technological novelties. I enjoyed the booths of the TATRC (Telemedicine and Advanced Technologies Research Center). They had very interesting research concepts to present, such as the the Second Life based virtual training of combat surgeons, the mobile robot capable of retreating wounded soldiers from battlefield. It was apparent that the biggest multinational companies (Microsoft, Intel, AT&T) also moved to the health care industry, and getting involved a bit in the research as well.


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