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Semin Nucl Med. 1998 Apr;28(2):145-57.

Telemedicine in practice.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114, USA.


Telemedicine is defined as the "delivery of health care and sharing of medical knowledge over a distance using telecommunication systems." The concept of telemedicine is not new. Beyond the use of the telephone, there were numerous attempts to develop telemedicine programs in the 1960s mostly based on interactive television. The early experience was conceptionally encouraging but suffered inadequate technology. With a few notable exceptions such as the telemetry of medical data in the space program, there was very little advancement of telemedicine in the 1970s and 1980s. Interest in telemedicine has exploded in the 1990s with the development of medical devices suited to capturing images and other data in digital electronic form and the development and installation of high speed, high bandwidth telecommunication systems around the world. Clinical applications of telemedicine are now found in virtually every specialty. Teleradiology is the most common application followed by cardiology, dermatology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, home health care, pathology, and oncology. The technological basis and the practical issues are highly variable from one clinical application to another. Teleradiology, including telenuclear medicine, is one of the more well-defined telemedicine services. Techniques have been developed for the acquisition and digitization of images, image compression, image transmission, and image interpretation. The American College of Radiology has promulgated standards for teleradiology, including the requirement for the use of high resolution 2000 x 2000 pixel workstations for the interpretation of plain films. Other elements of the standard address image annotation, patient confidentiality, workstation functionality, cathode ray tube brightness, and image compression. Teleradiology systems are now widely deployed in clinical practice. Applications include providing service from larger to smaller institutions, coverage of outpatient clinics, imaging centers, and nursing homes. Teleradiology is also being used in international applications. Unresolved issues in telemedicine include licensure, the development of standards, reimbursement for services, patient confidentiality, and telecommunications infrastructure and cost. A number of states and medical boards have instituted policies and regulations to prevent physicians who are not licensed in the respective state to provide telemedicine services. This is a major impediment to the delivery of telemedicine between states. Telemedicine, including teleradiology, is here to stay and is changing the practice of medicine dramatically. National and international communications networks are being created that enable the sharing of information and knowledge at a distance. Technological barriers are being overcome leaving organizational, legal, financial, and special interest issues as the major impediments to the further development of telemedicine and realization of its benefits.

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