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Telemedicine
By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 5)

The focus of telemedicine thus far has been mainly consultative. The American Telemedicine Association boasts its benefits as improved access to patients, cost efficiency and an answer to consumer demand in todayís busy world. Telemedicine encompasses the following services: specialist and primary care consultations, imaging services, remote patient monitoring, and remote medical education and consumer information.

The ATA states that telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty, with no billing distinction made between services provided on-site and remotely. This is good news for patients who are concerned about insurance issues. A doctorís visit is a doctorís visit, whether in-person or a video conference session.

Models

Some experts say there are three, but the majority of professionals agree on two distinct ways telemedicine is used today. The first is a real-time interaction, which is also the most common. Whether a simple phone call or complex as robotic surgery, real-time telemedicine necessitates both parties are present at the same time, with a communications link that allows an immediate interaction. Video conferencing equipment is popular, and today technology is available which allows physicians to perform remote patient evaluations.

A tele-otoscope, seeing inside a patientís ear, or a tele-stethoscope to hear a heartbeat are just some of the many devices. Specialists such as cardiologists, neurologists, as well as pharmacists are able to consult patients in real time via an immediate network connection.

Surgeons now can operate on a patient miles away with telemedicine. One of the earliest occurred on September 7, 2001, when a remote operation was conducted across the Atlantic Ocean. A surgeon in New York performed a gallbladder operation on a patient in Strasbourg, France. It was completed with the use of a dedicated fiberoptic link, which ensured a digital connection and minimal lag time.

The rapid growth in technology has made these remote surgery rooms very specialized. In Toronto, Canada, the room responds to the surgeonís voice command to control a variety of equipment on site, including the lighting, position of the operating table and surgical tools themselves. Remote surgery is not a widespread phenomenon, as development of standards and compatibility of equipment are just some issues to be resolved.

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