Telemedicine has the potential to help bridge the time and distance gaps that can mean life or death for some patients. It can provide live video conferencing between local, rural doctors and clinics to the necessary specialists at a major hospital or research center. These conferences can provide quick and accurate diagnosis and save both the patient and the doctor time and money. This article presents a background on telemedicine including components, applications and benefits of telemedicine, challenges and trends in telemedicine, and conclusion with some direction for future research in telemedicine.
Telemedicine removes geographic barriers and is anticipated to save money by treating patients on-site rather than in an expensive hospital setting, improve patient care by giving health care providers access to teaching medicine resources, and target services to populations that have been hard to reach (remote rural areas), expensive to serve (prisons, mental institutions), and historically neglected (urban poor). The most important benefit of telemedicine is its ability to access patient data from any remote location (Demiris, 2004). It is impossible to have specialists in all areas available at all times to any given hospital or emergency care service. There are people worldwide that live in rural and remote areas who are not able to receive the type of care they need due to their distance from the nearest facility that specializes in their illness. Moreover, in most developing countries, there is a severe scarcity of medical specialists. Lack of capital, facilities, and systems are some of the common problems faced by developing countries. Telemedicine coupled with telecommunications can provide a solution to some of the above problems.
The U.S. Department of Defense has been using telemedicine technologies to support their operations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Cuba, Panama, Croatia, and Macedonia (Garshnek, Logan, & Hassell, 1997). The telemedicine project in the Persian Gulf in 1993 had computerized tomography (CT) scanners installed in transportable modular military hospital units and deployed in the Saudi desert just south of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders. During Operation Restore Hope, physicians in Somalia were able to communication and share medical data with specialists in Washington DC.
Telemedicine has always played an important role in astro medicine as well. From the 1960s, astronauts have been monitored by groups of medical specialists through telemetry during the space operations. Currently, NASA is making efforts to hold conferences in the micro-gravity environment between astronauts on the orbiting space-crafts and the medical specialists on earth (Garshnek et al., 1997). These one-way video and two-way audio conferences would make a phenomenal difference in the safety and security of the astronauts on board.