These days everyone knows What is Telemedicine ? As well the benefits of telemedicine no longer seem to be something one needs to be convinced about.  The advanced technologies and communication systems that have facilitated the expansion of Telemedicine , may make you think that it is a new invention, but the truth is quite the opposite. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that Telemedicine has been around for centuries. 

As on-demand healthcare is a necessity today, so it always has been. The premise of Telemedicine is based on being able to communicate medical data over long distances, and such practices have been used throughout history.  

HISTORY OF TELEMEDICINE – TIMELINE THROUGH THE AGES

Ancient Telemedicine

At the very beginning, Telemedicine could be seen in its infant stages in Greece and Rome around 500 BC. During this time communication between towns was conducted by human messengers, who would transfer any medical advice or medicines necessary. Mediums like smoke signals and light reflections were used to communicate medical information. These were used especially over long distances to indicate health events like births, deaths, and disease outbreaks

Early Telemedicine

The invention of telegraphs and telephones advanced Telemedicine towards what it is today. They made long-distance communication easier, increased the speed of delivery and were being used by the common public on a large scale. Due to this, it was used by the military during the Civil War for ordering medical supplies as well as communicating deaths or injuries on the battlefield. 

Early Telemedicine usage cited is back in 1940s Pennsylvania, when radiology images were sent using telephone line between two towns 24 miles. This probably was the world’s first example of an electronic medical record transfer. It was further enhanced by a Canadian doctor in the 1950s, into a teleradiology system. In 1959, the University of Nebraska set up a two-way television to transmit information to medical students and later linked the system with a state hospital for video consultations. The University of Miami School of Medicine in 1967 worked with the local fire department in 1967 to transmit ECG rhythms in rescue situations over the radio to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The world became more connected with the widespread use of telephones. Physicians could give their patients medical advice over the phone as well as confer with other physicians to exchange information. With the advanced communication methods used today telephones may not seem significant, but they played an essential part in the evolution of Telemedicine.

Telemedicine As We Know Today

The idea for modern Telemedicine that we use today appeared around the 1960s, during which time the transmission of video, images and other medical data occurred. In 1959, the clinicians at the University of Nebraska became the first people to use video communication for medical purposes. They used interactive telemedicine to transmit neurological examinations and other such programs soon followed. 

A major break in the development of Telemedicine came with a successful government project between the Indian Health Services and NASA. The project was called Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care (STARPAHC). It provided Telemedicine services to the Native Americans of  Papago Reservation in Arizona using the same technology astronauts use on space missions.

The STARPHAC project sparked the interest of several in the Telemedicine field over the following decades. Many universities, medical centers, and research companies came forward with more creative and ambitious projects leading to the quick growth of Telemedicine technology. 

Telemedicine Now

Telemedicine today is much mature and no longer practices and instances of usage or experiments done by Universities. It is much thought out and strategic way ahead when it comes to providing healthcare services. Multiple aspects have played a role when it comes to the advancement of telemedicine.

  • Technology
    The onset of the Internet had a great impact on healthcare technologies and Telemedicine. It became so much easier to transmit information over long distances. The Internet has played the role of a catalyst to telemedicine. There are multiple technologies built upon the internet to deliver these telemedicine services. Service providers have built healthcare applications for exchanging and storing medical data, video calling over long distances. Even patients used Telemedicine apps to see their lab results, renew prescriptions, or send communicate with their physician.

 

  • Regulations
    Telemedicine advances have been majorly in the United States with the regulations in place along with technology to put in to practice effective telemedicine. Bodies like the NCPDP have created the standards needed for electronic transfer. Technology platforms like Surescripts offer ways to securely transmit information that is based on the standards laid out for electronic communication. From a security standpoint, every such technology solution needs to be HIPAA compliant. There are mandatory audits performed to ensure security compliance.

 

  • Telemedicine Examples
    There are multiple examples of telemedicine implementations one can find. Today a mobile device is used for consultations with the doctor. Wearables like fitness bands and smartwatches are used to monitor patients’ vital data like heart rate, Oxygen level, BP. These are sent to the doctor over the wire for the doctor to make a prognosis and prescribe medicine.  Modern Telemedicine is still developing and getting better in order to provide patients with the best access to healthcare services from afar. Just like any technology, there are both pros and cons of telemedicine . Newer technologies like the Internet of Things are also making inroads in this space. IoT brings in a new level of integration where one device talks to another and will help build a layer of intelligence like never before!!!