Dr. Ana Maria Lopez
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Pathology, University of Arizona College of Medicine
Walnut trees grow on hillsides and old Spanish missions dot the landscape around the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, AZ. In this town of 24,000, 88 percent of the residents are Hispanic and many of them are underserved and poor, including Marietta, a 45-year-old woman who has cervical cancer. She is unable to travel to Tucson to see an oncologist because the family's pickup truck won't survive the trip, and her family simply cannot afford it.
But 65 miles away in Tucson, Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, an oncologist and medical director of the University of Arizona's Telemedicine Program, will see that Marietta receives state-of-the-art care without leaving Nogales. While Marietta's physician examines her cervix, Dr. Lopez will receive digital images of the procedure and work with cervical cancer specialists to determine Marietta's next treatment steps. This study, funded by NCI, is assessing the clinical- and cost-efficacy of telecolposcopy.
Under Dr. Lopez's leadership, the University of Arizona Telemedicine Program performs consults for as many as 2,000 patients a year, including members of Arizona's 28 Native American tribes. She is also the principal investigator of a 4-year American Cancer Society grant on "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 dealing with disparities and underserved populations.
"Dr. Lopez has brought the leading cancer center in Arizona to us," says Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief internist and medical director at the Mariposa Community Health Center. Currently, Dr. Lopez is using telemedicine to treat 50 of Dr. Pereira's patients and has set up a telemedicine program to treat and provide follow-up care to breast cancer survivors in Nogales.
Born in Bolivia, Dr. Lopez was only 6 years old when her physician parents immigrated to Chicago to complete their residency training in pathology. She studied philosophy, political science, and chemistry as an undergraduate, and it was during this time that her beliefs regarding equality and compassion in medicine began to take form.
She graduated from Jefferson Medical College and completed her residency and fellowship training in internal medicine, hematology, and oncology, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Ten years later, she completed her master's degree in public health from the same institution and in 1995 she completed a post-doctoral NIH fellowship in cancer prevention and etiology. Dr. Lopez's interest in medical oncology emerged from her passion for clinical care.
"With the rapid developments in oncology," she says, "working with cancer patients allows me to practice state-of-the-art clinical care that addresses the patient's physical and emotional needs, while integrating the latest developments in translational medicine.
"To care for people is an incredible privilege," she added. "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."
Her latest project is called Ultra Clinic. Normally, patients in rural towns like Nogales have to wait months for the results of a mammogram before knowing whether a biopsy should be performed. "We have integrated the process so the patient can get the results the same day via telemammography readings," Dr. Lopez says.
In July, she demonstrated the use of telemedicine and new Web-based technologies at the White House. The meeting was attended by 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, she made the cover of the magazine Tucson Lifestyle after being named one of the city's top doctors, as selected by her peers - an honor she has received for several years in a row.
—Francis X. Mahaney, Jr.