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Dec. 15, 2000: Midlands Business Journal


American Educational Telecommunications, an international company headquartered in Omaha that handles broadcast medicine, distance education and health care administration, has identified major growth plans over the next three years.

The company has a private fiber optic network through which it connects American physicians with health care organizations in other countries. Doctors in the United States can diagnose patients' illnesses and exchange information with professionals in other countries. AET, which mainly has worked with health care professionals in Egypt and Jordan, also works with educational institutions to provide broadcast courses internationally.

By 2004 the company, which also has offices in Norfolk, Neb., St. Louis and Cairo, Egypt, will expand its services into 14 countries. Its services will be increased in Egypt and Jordan and will expand into Kuwait by the first quarter of next year and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Japan by the second quarter of next year. AET will reach an average of 300 medical practitioners in each country by 2004, which also should see the industry's annual revenues reach $1.6 billion, according to market analysts Frost and Sullivan.

Donald A. LaPoint, executive vice president and chief operations officer, said the company should have annual sales of more than $70 million by 2004. He said next year its sales will include 11,000 units used to access the system at $250 each, 4,000 credit hours of courses at $400 a credit hour and 30 seminars attended by 100 physicians each at $700 a physician.

Those numbers represent a major progression from the idea of Norfolk obstetrician-gynecologist Keith W. Vrbicky, chairman and CEO. His idea kicked off the company three years ago.

"One of the main reasons I took an interest in telehealth and distance education is where I live," he said. "I saw that consultations with subspecialists were not available in remote locations. We now have the telecommunications infrastructure to access those services. I was introduced to Egypt's minister of health by a friend. In 1998 Sen. Chuck Hagel and I met with him in Alexandria, Egypt, about the application of our services and the role we could play internationally.

"The interest of the minister was that the country was spending $80 million to send patients abroad for consultations. Well over half of those would be unnecessary if a telehealth program was established so consultation could be done with technology. There also was tremendous interest in continuing education for physicians, nursing personnel, pharmacists and dentists. It can run the whole gamut of health care education services."

The company was established in Norfolk but its headquarters moved to Omaha to access its telecommunications resources. The Omaha site is at 401 S. 39th St. in the Renaissance Mansion. LaPoint said the headquarters has the most elaborate teleconferencing equipment and the three other offices have complementary equipment. He provided an example of a common consultation scenario.

"If a physician has an emergency at Cairo University and needs consultation quickly about the treatment of a patient, he or she would contact our Cairo office and be identified by personal identification number," LaPoint said. "The call would be routed through our national operations center in Omaha, which contacts an emergency physician on AET's on-call network. The physician is routed and notified by pager.

"The doctor can be in front of the videoconferencing center in five minutes. The physician sees the patient and the other physician or the patient's information on screen. The doctors are on a live conference call and they discuss the case and all the variables. The physician will take the information and discuss it until he or she is comfortable with a diagnosis or an information exchange. After the call a written report is developed. A follow-up visit often is scheduled."

Vrbicky, who owns AET, said the system can transmit static images such as X-rays and scans.

"They can be seen in real-time in the U.S. as if the physician was with the patient," he said.

AET, which has a network of more than 100 consulting physicians, will apply its technology in other ways.

"Within each country, we're also assisting in connecting rural areas to cities so people in rural areas have access to specialized health care," Vrbicky said. "It no longer should matter where they live. The technology allows them access to health care.

"The system we're using has 66 points of presence in upper and lower Egypt. All sites are connected to various health centers there. No longer do patients have to travel. It reduces the cost of care and increases the quality."

AET, which has 14 employees, will put its technology in areas where tourists gather.

"In Egypt and other countries we will pursue putting the technology in hotels and other tourist areas," Vrbicky said. "In Egypt the most important source of revenue is tourism. Most hotels have health clinics.

"One of the hesitations for tourists is to seek health care in other countries. They want to be connected to physicians in their own countries. We now are in negotiation with major hotels and cruise ships down the Nile River and have had favorable responses. They will be important customers, and the technology will be important for the economic development of these countries."

Vrbicky has an OB-GYN practice in Norfolk and has faculty appointments at the Creighton University School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is a member of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Post-Secondary Education.

LaPoint has more than 20 years of experience in the high-tech medical industry and international business.

Return to: 2000 Feature Stories