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Grantee Spotlight: Ana Maria Lopez

Ana Maria Lopez, M.D., M.P.H., FACP Ana Maria Lopez, M.D., M.P.H., FACP

University of Arizona College of Medicine
Leon Levy Cancer Center 1969F
P.O. Box 245024
Tucson, AZ 85724
phone: (520) 626-2271
fax: (520) 626-2225

At the Arizona-Mexican border, a rainbow appears over the town of Nogales, Arizona, where walnut trees still grow in nearby hillsides and old Spanish missions dot the landscape is the Mariposa Community Health Center. In this town of 24,000, most (88%) of the residents are Hispanic/Latino. Many are underserved and poor.

Marietta is 45 years-old and has cervical cancer. She lives with her family in poverty close to the border, unable to make the long haul to Tucson to see an oncologist because the family's pickup truck won't go any further, and her family simply can not afford to fix it.

Sixty-five miles away, Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, an Oncologist and Medical Director of the University of Arizona's Telemedicine Program will see that Marietta's receives state-of-the-art care without the patient leaving Nogales. While Marietta's physician, Dr. Yaron Lidor, Obstetrician/Gynecologist at the Mariposa Community Health Center, performs a colposcopy exam of Marietta's cervix, Dr. Lopez will receive digital images of the procedure in real time to determine Marietta's next steps toward treatment. Dr. Lopez, along with other Telemedicine practitioners, enables thousands of rural and poor Americans to receive the highest quality of cancer care and bring leading cancer experts practically to the patient home.

An Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Pathology at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, Tucson, Dr. Lopez was the principal investigator of a pilot project funded by NCI's CRCHD through the SPN / CNP project, Redes En Acción. This pilot assessed the feasibility of telecolposcopy for cervical cancer. The University of Arizona Telemedicine Program performs colposcopy on as many as 2,000 patients a year.

Dr. Lopez is also the principal investigator of a 4-year NIH grant "Examining Barriers to Minority Participation in Cancer Clinical Trials" to determine whether the beliefs of ethnically distinct populations affect the accrual of Latino/Hispanic participants to clinical trials. And, she has been funded on a number of NIH grants addressing health disparities among underserved populations.

Employing the use of satellite technology, telemedicine can broadcast a consultation between physicians at facilities in two separate parts of the country or anywhere on the globe using video-conferencing equipment and even utilize robotic technology for surgery. Diagnostic tools such as X-rays, CT scans and MRI's can be transmitted literally anywhere in the world. Some doctors have recently installed the latest computer technology in their homes so that images can be sent directly to them without having to make late night trips to the hospital or clinic. Patients living in rural areas unable to afford transportation to major medical institutions or were previously "no shows" when it came to treatment are now receiving care.

"Getting proper access to care to rural patients and giving them state-of-the-art screening, diagnosis and treatment was always extremely challenging until now, and getting adequate screening for some patients sometimes takes almost an act of God," says Eladio Pereira, M.D., FACP, Chief Internist and Medical Director at the Mariposa Community Health Center.

"Dr. Lopez has brought the leading cancer center in Arizona to us," says Dr. Pereira. Currently, Dr, Lopez is employing telemedicine to treat 50 of Dr. Pereira's patients and has set up a program for employing telemedicine in the treatment and follow up care of breast cancer survivors in the town of Nogales.

Dr. Lopez's warmth and compassion for her patients, which include Arizona's 28 Native American tribes, is legendary. Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Az) says that Dr. Lopez is "exceptionally outgoing. She's a real people person, committed to her career and to continually strengthening her knowledge of medicine and the patients she serves."

In 1996, the State of Arizona Legislature funded the Arizona Telemedicine Program. This program provides mandated telemedicine services to a broad range of healthcare service users including geographically isolated communities, Native American tribes, and the Arizona Department of Corrections. The Arizona Telemedicine Program delivers medical services via real-time and store-and-forward technologies in twenty communities. This year, 500 hours of continuing medical education and continuing education will be delivered to thirty-four communities using video conferencing.

"To care for people is an incredible privilege," Dr Lopez said. "The secret is simply to care for your patient.if you keep that as your focus, you'll do the right thing. In medicine you are always learning and that is what keeps things exciting," she said.

This past July, Dr. Lopez along with her colleague Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein demonstrated the use of telemedicine and new web-based technologies at the White House. The meeting was composed of inter-agency medical directors from the White House, the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies.

In June, Dr. Lopez made the cover of the magazine "Tucson Lifestyle" after being named one of Tucson's top 247 doctors by her peers, an honor she has received for several years in a row.

Updated: 07/08/11