Photograph: From Left: Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of New York's Department of Health, who spoke at the inaugural ceremony in the Faculty Club Oct. 13; Walter Turnbull, director of the Harlem Boys Choir, which performed, and Dean Mary O. Mundinger. Photo Credit: Lynn Saville
Columbia has received two federal grants totaling $1,183,000 for computer projects to help homebound patients and Harlem school children.
One will equip visiting nurses north of 145th St. in Manhattan with hand-held computers that will allow them to communicate with hospitals about homebound patients.
The other will give students in six Harlem public schools computers to access environmental information about their neighborhoods and the world through links to the information superhighway.
The grants are part of the Department of Commerce's Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program announced by officials of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Both demonstration projects are expected to begin Oct. 15 and continue for 18 months.
Nearly 100 grants were awarded, most to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, libraries and museums. The projects are part of the federal government's efforts to promote universal access and equal opportunity through new information technologies.
"We view the information highway as a way to help disadvantaged communities become more competitive, as does Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown," said Vice Provost Michael Crow. "Both the Harlem project and the wireless communications project take Columbia's work in telecommunications and move it directly into the community."
"Applied Informatics," a $2.5 million project, will receive $733,000 in federal monies and matching funds of $1.8 million from Columbia, the Hartford Foundation, New York State and industry. Industry collaborators include IBM and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's Foundation for Wireless Telecommunications.
Physicians at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center will computerize clinical protocols, which describe generally agreed-upon therapies for particular diseases and list possible complications of the disease and its treatments. Existing medical records databases at Columbia-Presbyterian, the New York City Department of Health and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York will be linked, and health care providers at all three will be able to consult computerized clinical protocols that flag possible complications arising from a particular treatment. The two health agencies will administer the project jointly with Columbia.
The initiative will give hand-held computers to eight public health assistants of the Department of Health and to eight nurses of the Visiting Nurse Service.
The visiting practitioners will use the computers to consult automated clinical protocols, to check a patient's medical records, to enter home visit information and to schedule office visits.
"This initiative will allow us to coordinate care for patients who receive treatment from multiple health providers at different institutions," said George Hripcsak, assistant professor of medical informatics at Columbia's College of Physicians & Surgeons and the principal investigator for the project.
"All the medical providers involved in a patient's care, including visiting practitioners, will have access to all they need to know about the patient.
"We hope to prevent people from getting lost in the health care system, to improve the quality and reduce the cost of health care and to bring this high-quality health care into the home."
The medical informatics project will be particularly useful in treating persistent, highly communicable diseases that have drug-resistant strains, such as tuberculosis. Doctors now recommend directly observed therapy for tuberculosis patients, in which every medication dose is observed by a qualified health care provider.
In addition to the hand-held computers, five personal computers will be placed in the health department's tuberculosis clinic in the Upper West Side District Health Center: four in examining rooms and one, outfitted with touch-based multimedia software, in the waiting room to serve as an information kiosk.
The Harlem Environmental Access Project will receive a total of $1.1 million, $450,000 from the federal agency and $650,000 in matching funds from Columbia and its partner in the project, the Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF. Columbia and the EDF will install four computers in each of six Harlem public schools and connect them to the two organizations' Internet facilities.
Students participating in the Harlem project will maintain individual electronic notebooks to record their work, and will have access to environmental databases and research at both the EDF and Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the world-renowned earth sciences research institute. The EDF will provide information and expertise on environmental issues such as recycling, lead poisoning, toxic waste and global climate change.
Columbia will provide a Mosaic-based teaching tool, Earth View, developed by Raymond Sambrotto, associate research scientist at Lamont-Doherty. Earth View allows students to use the Internet to find pictures, sound and data relating to environmental research at Columbia and elsewhere, and to perform basic data analyses. More advanced topics available on Earth View will include earthquakes, the oceans, the biosphere and global climate change.
The principal investigator at Columbia for the Harlem Environmental Access Project will be Robert O. McClintock, professor of history and education and director of the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College. "We'd like students to use the computers to learn more about environmental issues that affect their day-to-day lives," McClintock said.
The schools to be networked in the project will be selected in cooperation with community officials preparing to implement an economic empowerment zone, created by Congress this year, in Harlem. Columbia and the EDF will maintain network connections with the schools for three years following the end of the project.