The Roots of Telemedicine

The Roots of Telemedicine

Science fiction has always been known for its predictions. After all, the genre itself sprung from the minds of futurists and speculative scientists. That is why it should come as no surprise to learn that the cutting edge medical practice known as telemedicine has similar roots. All it takes is a revolutionary invention such as radio to spark an image like the one on the cover of the April 1924 issue of Radio News.  It features a television-like contraption enabling a family to experience a doctor visit in the comfort of their own home. The editor seized the concept of two-way communication and inadvertently gave birth to the concept of telemedicine.


Of course, the first experimental television transmission did not occur until 1927, three years after the magazine was published. Radio had only just started reaching American homes. Yet, human ingenuity had already ensured that wherever a signal could be received, vital information would ride on its back. During the Civil War, telegraph had been used to transmit everything from medical supplies to lists of casualties. It is even conceivable that medical consultations could have taken place. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and the human voice entered the fray.

The first branch of medicine to establish a basic model for telemedicine was radiology. In the late 1940’s, radiologists transmitted medical records over a distance of 24 miles, from West Chester to Philadelphia, PA. At the start of the 50’s, medical literature already began making references to telemedicine. Canadian radiologists actually established a teleradiology system. At the end of that decade, video communications were being used by the American medical community to accomplish everything from neurological examinations to group therapy sessions and even training seminars. By the time TV dominated American culture and begun beaming Jack Kennedy into living rooms, government agencies like NASA, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare began to take interest in the possibilities of telemedicine.


With Uncle Sam investing time and money in telemedicine, progress picked up the pace. A string of breakthroughs followed

  • 1964: The Nebraska Psychiatric Institute had already begun using a two-way closed-circuit TV link to communicate with its students. It then used the link to establish a connection with the Norfolk State Hospital about 112 miles away. Among the information provided were neurological examinations, diagnosis of difficult psychiatric cases, case consultations, research seminars, and education and training.
  • 1967: The University Of Miami School Of Medicine partnered with the local fire department to transmit electrocardiographic rhythms over radio to Jackson Memorial Hospital in rescue situations, a breakthrough in urban emergency medicine.
  • 1971: NASA lends its ATS-1 satellite to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communication. Twenty six sites in Alaska were used to verify the reliability of telemedicine via satellite communications.
  • 1972: NASA partners with aerospace and defense juggernaut Lockheed-Martin, then known as Lockheed Missiles and Space Co, to commence trial runs of STARPAHC or Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care. STARPAHC was a telemedical program designed to help people living in remote locations with little or no medical services. It used two-way microwave transmissions to link paramedical personnel working out of both mobile and fixed stations with medical experts at hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix. The program lasted until 1975.
  • 1972: The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) provides funding for seven telemedicine research and demonstration projects, via its Health Care Technology Division. Locations include the Illinois Mental Health Institutes in Chicago, Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Massachusetts’ Cambridge Hospital, Illinois’ Bethany/Garfield Medical Center in Chicago, Minnesota’s Lakeview Clinic in Waconia, Dartmouth Medical School’s INTERACT in Hanover, N.H., and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
  • 1973: The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funds two more telemedicine projects: the Boston Nursing Home project for geriatric patients, and the Miami-Dade project between Florida’s Dade County and Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.
  • 1977: Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland, using the joint Canadian/U.S. Hermes satellite, participates in a Canadian Space Program for distance education and medical care.
  • 1984: Australia’s North-West Telemedicine project is set up to pilot test a government satellite network known as Q-Network. The goal is to provide healthcare to people in five remote towns south of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
  • 1989: The Soviet Republic of Armenia, following a massive earthquake, relies on the U.S./U.S.S.R Joint Working Group on Space Biology in order to implement a one-way international telemedicine network. The network allowed consultations to take place between Yerevan, Armenia and four U.S. medical centers.


Once satellites entered the picture, the road to modern telemedicine was paved. The reliability of satellite networks made it possible for the idea to expand beyond universities and medical centers to private industry. The federal government has long since begun to amass an inventory of telemedicine applications. The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs keep full record of telemedicine activities at their facilities. Private organizations have long since been keeping track of both public and private telemedicine programs. The advent of the World Wide Web and now, wireless technology, has blown the field of telemedicine wide open. The possibilities are exhilarating. MD Live Care prides itself on being at the forefront of modern telemedicine. To learn more about what telemedicine can do for you, contact us today.

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