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What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services to patients by healthcare professionals over the telecommunication infrastructures. Those medical services include evaluating, diagnosing and treating patients, as well as issuing electronic prescriptions via consultation platform and medicine delivery. In some cases, nurses can be sent off to the patients’ home for taking blood sample for testing. The main aim of telemedicine is to enhance the delivery capability and quality to the geographically and medically underserved populations with lower costs.

Development of Telemedicine

Telegraph

In 1700-1800s, a set of electrical inventions and devices were invented and made the near-instantaneous communication across long distance. In 1844, the public telegraph service was launched between Washington and Baltimore in the United States. The military used the telegraph to order medical supplies and transmitted causality lists.

Alexander Graham Bell

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone and soon after multiple telephone lines were able to be connected together with carrying video images, audio signals and data. For extending the reach of telephone communication, he started to utilise the radio signal as well 1.

Dr. Hugo Gernsback

In 1924, Dr. Hugo Gernsback invented “Teledactyl” which allowed doctors to see the patients through a viewscreen and also touch them from miles away with robot arms2. Other than just manipulating the devices from afar, he could feel the resistance transmitted by radio from the other end (i.e. the patient’s end)as well. Undoubtedly, it has built impactful foundation for telemedicine.

Fast forward to 1950s, briefly extracted the information from a telemedicine article by Karen Zundel3, the Radiologic images were sent by telephone between West Chester and Philadelphia and it was mentioned in the article entitled “Telognosis” by Gershon-Cohen. Then, in 1960-1970s, the United States has started developing telemedicine and funded 7 telemedicine research-and-demonstrations projects. These projects provided the opportunities for testing telemedicine capability to address a specific set of medical care issues. They also provided the opportunities for further experimentations of equipment capabilities and physical diagnosis.

Meanwhile, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsored the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company to launch a program STARPAHC providing healthcare delivery to the targeted people with significant health problems and had difficulty accessing healthcare. The pilot program was integrated into a rural location without many medical services. The Indian Health Service adopted the concept of telemedicine in order to help the Papago people whose did not have access to medical care in southern Arizona. At that time, the physical assistants were already able to send patient information from remote monitoring tools to a medical facility many miles away from original location.

In 1980s, a set of electrical inventions and devices were continuously invented and made the near-instantaneous communication across long distance.

20 Years later...

Based on the 2015 WHO Global eHealth Survey (Europe Region)4, it indicated that 58% of the responding countries had developed policies on eHealth or TeleHealth. 69% of them actually had the financial support available for implementation national eHealth strategy and policy, while 89% have universities or technical colleges providing training to students on how to use information and communication technologies and eHealth. All these data showed that the globe has started to notice the important of eHealth and is willing to step towards the new trend of medical industry development.

Based on the above information, Telemedicine indeed has a long history and breakthrough evolutions over the decades. Yet its technology has been improving and becoming more competitive in recent years. It is not difficult for us to see that the future of this industry is promising and more innovative technologies will be invented and applied in the near future.

We will explore about the trends of telemedicine in another article!

  1. Telemedicine: A Guide to Assessing Telecommunications in Health Care“, on Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Evaluating Clinical Applications of Telemedicine by Field MJ in 1996 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45445/
  2. Telemedicine Predicted in 1925“, by Matt Novak on 14 March 2012 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/telemedicine-predicted-in-1925-124140942/
  3. Telemedicine: history, applications, and impact on librarianship“, by Karen M. Zundel, in 1996 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC226126/pdf/mlab00098-0087.pdf
  4. From innovation to implementation – eHealth in the WHO European Region“, by Carrie Beth Peterson, Clayton Hamilton and Per Erlend Hasvold in March 2016 https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/302331/From-Innovation-to-Implementation-eHealth-Report-EU.pdf