The idea of telemedicine is not new. In fact, when we get sick we often pick up the phone and discuss our conditions and possible treatments with our health care providers through the telephone. When there is an accident we dial 911 to obtain emergency assistance. These are just a few simple examples of applications of telemedicine. With advancements in technology, the new era of telemedicine will allow the patients and doctors to actually communicate both verbally as before but also visually.
Telemedicine is broadly defined as “the use of electronic information and communications technologies to provide and support health care when distance separates the participants”. 5 This technology has allowed people in underprivileged communities, rural areas, and geographically isolated locations to receive quality health care. However, the application of telemedicine is not limited to these regions. This tool will allow schools, hospitals, and other health care arenas to receive specialty care when needed.
Even though telemedicine is a very powerful tool, many barriers must be broken in order for this technology to succeed. There are many obstacles and the main one is the resistance from physicians. Many health care providers are reluctant to learn how to use new technologies; especially the older doctors who work at the rural and geographically isolated regions. On the other hand, telemedicine will allow health care providers to consult with expert in their field in order to better diagnose and treat their patients without any time delays or sending their patients to distant locations.
Legal, licensure, confidentiality, and cost issues are other potential barriers to the widespread implementation of telemedicine. 1 The health care industry must find the funding for telemedicne with its wide range of applications. Just like any other cutting edge technology, telemedicine will be costly to implement in the beginning. The connectivity and the hardware of the system will be expensive, but as the project moves forward these costs will be reduced. Telemedicine will in the future reduce the cost for health care.
As for the patients, telemedicine will allow them to have access to the specialist that they once were not able to obtain. People in underprivileged, rural, and geographically isolated region will be able to receive quality health care without delay or the trauma of traveling to a new region. 2 This course paper will begin with an introduction similar to the one given above, but with more detail. Many of the barriers and obstacles in telemedicine have been resolved and the final paper will site articles and methods utilized to solve these issues.
Telemedicine covers a very broad spectrum of medicine that includes emergency medicine, teleradiology, teleophthalmology, telepsychiatry, and care in the home and other non-clinical sites. In the final paper these different applications of telemedicine will be discussed with real life studies and examples. Many of these studies are done at the University of Southern California Advanced Bio Telecommunications & BioInformatics Center (USC-ABBC) and a more in depth look at their projects will be provided.
6 Two of the major issues in telemedicine that are relevant to policy makers, providers, and consumers are the costs of establishing the system and who will pay for the services. The paper will have a discussion on the funding and an update on weather or not health insurance, managed care, or government sponsored problems will be willing to pay for these services. 4 Then a discussion of case studies, past and present, will be done on the successes and failures of telemedicine. Finally the course paper will conclude with an evaluation of the effects of Telemedicine on quality, access, and cost.