Feature Story

More feature stories by year:


Return to: 2000 Feature Stories


Dec. 15, 2000: St. Louis Business Journal


Recently, Dr. Mike Noetzel, a pediatric neurologist at Washington University School of Medicine, sat at a conference table in downtown St. Louis and watched on a television screen as 9-year-old Ahmed walked unsteadily toward a camera at Cairo University Hospital.

From observing the way the child walked, particularly the way his foot angled inward as he planted it, Noetzel saw that the original diagnosis was right: athetoid cerebral palsy. That told him Ahmed's doctor in Cairo had prescribed the right medicine.

No amount of phone conversation, Noetzel said, could have adequately described what he saw.

Noetzel is one 26 St. Louis area physicians who have agreed to work with locally based American Educational Telecommunications (AET), which provides diagnosis and medical training to the Mideast.

AET is the brainchild of Nebraska physician Dr. Keith Vrbicky. The company has been headquartered in Frontenac since Donald A. LaPoint joined in October 1999 as chief operating officer. LaPoint had been chief executive of BioLase, a local maker of medical and dental lasers.

The company has signed up more than 100 U.S. doctors and gotten $2.1 million from investors to date. It's seeking another $3 million to $5 million from investors by Jan. 30. AET is readying a prospectus to send to 15 to 20 investors to raise the money.

LaPoint wants to use the money to hire sales and technical help and build out the company's network of teleconferencing centers. By June he hopes to add Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas to existing centers in St. Louis, San Diego, New York and Norfolk and Omaha, Neb. Five of AET's 14 employees are in St. Louis.

AET was borrowing the conference room from its law firm, Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin, as improvements were being made to its high-powered server computers in Frontenac.

While there are plenty of people in oil-rich nations who can afford the best health care money can buy and there's a wealth of well-trained physicians in such countries, medical care falls short in some areas, LaPoint said.

"I was very surprised to find out that there is no certification of physicians after they leave medical school," LaPoint said.

That means there is plenty of demand for AET's other service: training. AET ran its first medical conference earlier this month in an auditorium at the University of Cairo. A cardiologist in Nebraska appeared on a screen big enough for a smallish movie theater and told 700 doctors how to put a wire mesh tube, a stent, inside a patient's artery.

LaPoint said he has signed an agreement with Egypt's Cairo University to do at least 100 conferences in 2001. That works out to at last $2.1 million in revenue, he said.

One day the AET system might be used to hook up emergency rooms as well. Dr. John Milton, co-director of the emergency room at St. Mary's Health Center, thinks the idea is workable. He said the idea might fly some day at St. Mary's, given enough doctors to handle the additional work.

"You¹d have to have the right kind of staffing."

In the meantime, AET is earning $300 per each 15-minute consultation. Ahmed's session, for example, took nearly 45 minutes and cost his parents $900, since it counted as three consultations. The price covers all charges, including the phone bill and doctor's time.

LaPoint said he expects AET to conduct 1,200 consultations in the first quarter of 2001, which would work out to $360,000 in revenue. At that pace, including the training contract with Egypt's Ministry of Health, AET would take in about $3.5 million next year.

LaPoint said he already has signed up Jordan Army Hospital and is talking to potential clients in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Return to: 2000 Feature Stories