Of the paperless society that is just around...


January 23, 1993

YOU'VE HEARD of the paperless society that is just around the corner: Everything is done by computer, without printing out and filing millions of reams of paper. But have you heard of the filmless hospital?

Baltimore's newest medical wonder, the Hyatt-like downtown Veterans Administration center that opens tomorrow, has put itself on the cutting edge of medical innovation with its high-tech radiology system.

Instead of millions of X-rays and other diagnostic photographs stored in a huge back room, the VA center will do everything by digital computer. Hit the "mouse" and the terminal screen calls up the photo of a patient's lungs, if that's what you want. Not clear enough? No need to expose the patient to more radiation: the computer digitally clarifies the photo. Not detailed enough? The computer zooms in on a smaller area, giving the doctor a close-up look at a problem. The machine also gives doctors rotating three-dimensional views of a patient's anatomy, or overlays a set of X-rays to re-create the patient's body movements.

This Buck Rodgers technology may make traditional anatomy classes passe for students at the University of Maryland Medical School next door. But that's no problem: students can sit down at a computer terminal learn about anatomy in real-life situations.

The system also makes rapid diagnoses by teams of physicians possible: they just call up the same data from the computer library at their individual terminals and confer by conference call. Tie-ins with other VA centers, and eventually with other local hospitals are viewed as the next logical steps. It could speed up medical diagnosis -- and cut down on excessive radiology. No more film, just computer read-outs.

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BRITISH POLITICIANS are outraged at tabloid invasions of the royal family's privacy. Many stories are scurrilous, particularly the latest, the supposed transcript of a mobile phone call between the Prince of Wales and a lady who is not the princess.

So a commission is recommending creating a Press Complaints Tribunal with power to impose big fines, and laws against telephone bugging and long-range photos.

The catch is that laws to protect royals might also protect politicians. The press hounded one minister out of office by reporting his extra-marital life. It embarrassed another by reporting that public money paid his lawyers in a private matter.

It is worth noting that an industry watchdog wrote to the commission with convincing evidence Prince Charles and Princess Diana each recruited newspapers to report their version of the rift in their marriage.

Britain already has restrictive press laws. It would be a scandal were Parliament to enact another on the rationale of protecting the privacy of people who are, in fact, violating their own.

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