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Yet Another Fantastic Voyage

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If he had to, Gerard Mullin could diagnose an active gastrointestinal bleed from a remote roadside rest stop—even as his patient lay tethered to an emergency gurney miles away. The distressed patient would take a pill the size of a multivitamin—but armed with a fancy camera at one end—and Mullin could begin tracking what the camera-equipped pill “sees” on its journey through the patient’s digestive tract.

The “PillCam” device sports a see-through “cockpit” at one end, stuffed with electronics, and it can transmit images from any point during its eight-hour journey through the GI tract. Most patients feel almost nothing as the capsule is propelled through their system via peristalsis.

Mullin, director of capsule endoscopy, is harnessing rapidly evolving technology to make ever quicker GI diagnoses. He’s presided over 252 capsule endoscopies here in the last year alone, reading every one of them himself.

His new twist is to log into a system based in Hopkins’ computer servers even when he’s traveling. If one of his patients suffers a problem while he’s away, Mullin can instruct an associate to begin a PillCam procedure and goes to his remote viewing device. He has done it from his apartment in downtown Baltimore and from a scientific gathering in Puerto Rico. “I can read them from anywhere.”

He describes a recent case in which one of his patients was suffering anemia. Physicians on site couldn’t detect any bleeding, so they tried the PillCam procedure and paged Mullin to review the images via remote. “Two hours into the study,” says Mullin, “I spotted an arterial venous malformation in her small bowel. I was able to tell my colleague to go in and cauterize it.”


— Ramsey Flynn

 

 

Johns Hopkins Medicine

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