History of Telemedicine

In the 1900's, as radios became popular, the scientific community began to theorize other applications for this technology. Among them, radio veteran and inventor Hugo Gernsback thought doctors would greatly benefit from the ability to communicate over long distances.

In February 1925, the German scientist published an article that described a rather odd invention of his. Gernsback believed that radio waves could be used to transfer more than just sound. His device - aptly named the Teledactyl - would be able to rely physical feelings, enabling doctors to examine patients that lived hundreds of miles away!
Although hardly a feasible solution - we must remember that technical know-how wasn't exactly there yet - Gernsback's idea still struck close to its target. Unfortunately, the scientist never managed to reach the next phase of his project. Regardless, the proposal enjoyed great success among the people; prompting widespread interest in the topic.

The 60's brought The Jetson's to the homes of many. The Jetsons writers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, accurately portrayed a future with such innovations as flying drones, pill cameras, and flat screen TVs. Hanna-Barbera also envisioned the role telemedicine would play in the future delivery of healthcare.
In the 1970s, the Kaiser Foundation International joined forces with NASA as well as other US military contractors. With the space race heating up, the goal of these groups was to create a reliable system for dispensing health care to people in extremely distant locations; a team of astronauts on the moon, for instance!
The "Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care" program would continue for three years and give researches huge amounts of invaluable data. Although hindered by equipment malfunctions, the teams were able to establish proper video and audio communication and proactively improve health care quality for their patients.

At the same time, doctors began to exchange information with colleagues on the other side of the world. Teleradiology, for example, became the norm for many physicians. If a second opinion was needed images could be sent to a professional that had the option to view them without leaving the office. Diagnoses over video feed also substituted physical examination in some cases.

Once telemedicine was proven to be doable, other governments soon started their own research efforts. Australia attempted to solve the distance problem in 1982 - using communication satellites to bounce the signal and reach even farther locations - and Russia also joined the race in the late 80s.

Throughout the 90s, telemedicine quickly grew to become a major part of the world's health care system. The birth of the internet in 1989 and the diffusion of the personal computer pushed more obsolete technology out of the way. Now, every clinic could potentially be a part of a planet-wide network of physicians.

Courtney Larson

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