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Telemedicine
By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 5)  

As caregivers, staying up on the technological trends is vital to providing our loved ones with the best care possible. Telemedicine, or treating people from a distance, is not a new concept in health care. Since the beginning of the last century, Australians in remote areas used two-way radios to communicate with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Even in Africa, smoke signals have served as a warning to people of a disease outbreak in a village.

In the United States, a shortage of doctors was addressed in 1954 with the "teledoctor," when the patient dialed for an appointment, then came to the doctorís office. This replaced the house call model. The current telemedicine trend, however, began with a different population set, when Texas prisons began to overflow in the late 1990s. Physicians were overwhelmed with the number of patients, and finding time to meet with each of them.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) was also searching for a way to cut prisoner health care costs and save taxpayer dollars. In collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), the TDCJ instituted a telemedicine program, using video conferencing as a means of treating the prison population. With the success of the TDCJís initiative, UTMB established care clinics for treating uninsured as well as corporate-based patients.

Today, telemedicine has moved into a yet another era. The practice comes in a variety of models, and displays distinct, measurable goals, from increasing a patientís independence to lessening the cost of health care.

Definitions

First, itís necessary to understand the difference between telehealth and telemedicine. These words appear in a variety of ways. The Association of Telehealth Service Providers defines the terms this way, explaining that telehealth is a broader term which encompasses telemedicine:

Telehealth: the electronic provision of health care and information services for the direct benefit of individual patients and their families. It includes actual physician-patient interactions via telemedicine, and the provision of education and information services designed to increase awareness of (and where applicable, compliance with) diagnoses and medical conditions, treatments, and good health practices.

Telemedicine: The provision of health care and education over a distance, using telecommunications technology.

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