The Beginnings of Telemedicine

The beginnings of telemedicine

The unexpected global outbreak of COVID-19 has undeniably influenced the increased usage and awareness of telemedicine in providers and patients that may have never used or heard of telemedicine before.

When introduced to telemedicine, many believe that it is a modern invention. This assumption is understandable considering all of the technology that modern telemedicine incorporates — video calls, mobile and smart devices, remote robotic surgeries, internet connectivity, etc.

However, the concepts of telemedicine and remote patient care, as well as the need for it was recognized hundreds of years ago. The home-based remote patient care was mentioned as early as 1879. An article published in Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best-known peer-reviewed general medical journals, mentions the use of the telephone in patient treatment to cut down unnecessary in-person visits.

In the 1920s, the world was introduced to groundbreaking technological innovations including radio and broadcasting. Innovators quickly started utilizing new technologies to create designs and prototypes. One of them was a man called Hugo Gernsback, an inventor and a publisher passionate about technology, who made significant contributions to the growth of early broadcasting. In 1925, Gernsback wrote an article on a device he named “teledactyl”. In his article, he described how teledactyl would allow the doctor to use radio signals to receive a video feed of the patient and remotely control robotic arms to examine the patient. Gernsback’s designs were precursors to the modern telemedicine tools we know today.

The invention of the radio also facilitated the ability to conduct remote consultations between clinics on ships and experts on the mainland, resulting in improved patient treatment. Similarly, the remote consultations via radio allowed providers in remote areas to seek advice from their peers.

Today, we have the capability of utilizing universally available phone service and internet connectivity to conduct phone and video visits envisioned by Gernsback. The continuous improvements in network speed and latency made robot-assisted remote surgeries possible.

Technology is still advancing and the possibilities for the future of telemedicine are endless. The constant advances in telecommunications and technology will keep influencing the transformation of the healthcare system that we know today. Telemedicine can help us overcome the barriers of location dependencies in healthcare.

It is important to note that the growth of telemedicine is constrained by the existing regulations and policies in place. However, with the rapid growth of telemedicine, it is expected that the regulations governing telemedicine will be constantly updated and expanded to include new technologies and use cases.

References:

  1. “The Evolution of Telehealth: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?” The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment: Workshop Summary., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Nov. 2012,
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207141/.
  2. Novak, Matt. “Telemedicine Predicted in 1925.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 14 Mar. 2012,
    www.smithsonianmag.com/history/telemedicine-predicted-in-1925-124140942/.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow! Who would’ve thought telemedicine has such a long history! I really thought it was the invention of the last couple of years.


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