History of PedsChat

by Mike DeLarco

Left to Right: Betsy Edlavitch, Julius Edlavitch, Vlady Alcaraz-Ortega, Martha Alcaraz-Ortega

One could say that pediatric physician and computer enthusiast Dr. Julius Edlavitch has developed the world's largest doctor's lounge. ‚Äč

A physician at Fridley Children's and Teenager's Medical Center, Edlavitch recently introduced a first-of-its-kind medical specialty chat line on the Internet. According to Edlavitch, the idea for the chat line originated after a search for such a web site came up empty.

"On May 16, 1996, I was looking around on my computer for a site where physicians could talk about medicine, and there really wasn't one," he said. "That's when I decided to start a specialty chat line on pediatrics."

Edlavitch envisioned his International Pediatric Chat Line to be a place where pediatric professions from around the world could get together and talk about issues, much like at a hospital's doctor's lounge, he said.

"The neat thing about it is that you can have a physician in Israel wrestling with a case at three in the morning and now be able to chat with a doctor in Detroit at his office over the Internet," Edlavitch said.

A 1977 graduate of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Residency program, Edlavitch said the chat line is available for public use but is generally intended for health professionals like nurses, pediatric specialists and other physicians.

Users of the chat line are encouraged to become registered members by entering background data, a short biography, and a self portrait, said Edlavitch. "It's helpful to know a little bit about the person you're having a conversation with, where he or she is coming from and what their expertise is in," he said.

Only two months in existence, the International Pediatric Chat Line has members in more than 20 countries and 30 locations in the United States. "We have members from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Israel, Mexico, you name it," said Edlavitch. "I'm happy with the large amount of interest in the chat line in just the short amount of time it's been up and running."

While the process of starting up a web page and chat line came easily for Edlavitch, he admits that like all chat lines, getting people to sign on during the same window of time presents a challenge.

"My goal when I get a little further into this is to have people be able to log onto the chat line at any time during the day and find other physicians on there to talk with," said Edlavitch.

One way to reach that goal, Edlavitch said, is to post a calendar of topics and times on the web page so that doctors know when there will be others chatting on the line."I keep an updated schedule in both English and Spanish of times for people to log on and chat, as well as instructions on how to use the chat feature," he said.

The address for the International Pediatric Chat Line is: http://www.pedschat.org/

Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to access the chat line through their computer, said Edlavitch, and there is no fee for using the International Pediatric Chat Line outside of the normal fee charged by servers for time on the Internet. Like any web page in its beginning stages, Edlavitch said, there were little glitches that had to be hammered out before the chat line could run smoothly. "My wife was out of town for a whole week, so that gave me a lot of time to play around with the thing and see what needed to be added or what could be improved," he said. "I'm happy with the way it's turned out, and I'm really excited to have the distinction of being behind a program that's the first of its kind."

Edlavitch has also been very involved in the community in which he works. Some of his activities have included being a volunteer medical adviser for the Head Start Program in both Anoka and Washington counties, serving as a developer of the Anoka County--Unity Hospital Child Protection Committee, working to install playrooms and art work in emergency rooms and short stay surgery, and acting on the advisory board for the School District 11 pregnant teen program. "The best thing about the chat line is that you cannot only get helpful tips from other doctors," he said, "but it's a great way to make friends and colleagues all over the world!" I want to give credit to Dr. Vladiniro Alcaraz-Ortega of Sonora, Mexico and Dr. Humberto L. Lugo-Vincente of San Juan, Puerto Rico for helping with creating the web pages for IPC. Also to Dr. Andy Spooner of the University of Alabama Medical School for putting us first on his famous "pedinfo" web page.