Pioneering Fetal Treatment Center Unveils Online Consultation

By Camille Mojica Rey

Michael Harrison

Recently, an American woman living in Asia got some disturbing news about her pregnancy. Local doctors told her that her developing fetus showed signs of a life-threatening birth defect, making surgery prior to birth a possible necessity. The woman quickly sought out a second opinion from surgeons at the UCSF Fetal Treatment Center (FTC), which pioneered such surgery more than 25 years ago. She also began preparing for a trip to San Francisco. FTC physicians, however, told the woman about a new service called Inside - the first online consultation service in the country dedicated to offering second opinions on fetal surgery cases, and the first such service at the UCSF Children's Hospital. Inside is an interactive web portal in which patients can upload diagnostic images and other test results. In the case of the American living in Asia, the subsequent review by FTC surgeons revealed that, although surgery may be required after birth, fetal surgery and the trip to San Francisco for a second opinion were not necessary. "The ability to be an online patient is a great advance for patient care and for our center," says Diana Farmer, FTC surgeon and chief of pediatric surgery at UCSF Children's Hospital. "We are able to screen much more precisely which patients would benefit from coming to the center and which patients can be saved the unnecessary expense and inconvenience of distant travel during their pregnancies." Inside continues a long tradition of international practice by FTC surgeons, says Michael Harrison, the center's founding director and a UCSF professor of surgery and pediatrics. "We've always had patients from around the world," says Harrison, who performed the first surgery on a fetus while it was still in the mother's womb in 1981. He says fetal therapy is now a worldwide enterprise and that the Internet has allowed the FTC to expand its practice nationally and internationally. In the future, the FTC plans to offer access to Inside to both patients and their doctors directly through the referring physician's website. "We want to be able to work more directly with physicians at other treatment centers," Harrison says. This would facilitate a team approach to patient care, he explains. "It will mean even better, more coordinated care for patients." According to Harrison, the FTC's approach is the future of medicine. "Information technology is changing the practice of medicine and has the potential to improve global health," he says. "We can now take geography out of the picture." Related Links: UCSF Fetal Treatment Center Father of Fetal Surgery Looks Ahead
UCSF Today, March 28, 2006