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Columns

Telemedicine: A modern look at an old concept

Jeffrey Gregor is the Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee Community College
Jeffrey Gregor is the Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee Community College

In the changing world around us, it can often feel like everything is moving too fast to keep up. This seems especially true with advancements in medicine and technology. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the world seems to be evolving even faster than before. Some seemingly new things, though, may be much older concepts than we ever imagined. Telemedicine is a good example of this.

Similar to the way the 1970s show “Emergency” depicted paramedics performing futuristic medical treatment in a pre-hospital setting several years before becoming a reality, the concept of telemedicine has actually been around since the early 1900s.

In April of 1924, the first concept of telemedicine was born. Radio News Magazine had a cover story called “The Radio Doctor- Maybe” which depicted a doctor meeting with a patient and communicating through a video screen on the radio.

This concept did not become a reality until the late 1950’s when doctors first started sharing radiologic images through telephone lines. Through the 1960s and 1970s other telemedicine applications were developed for use to include NASA using telemedicine to monitor astronauts in space.

Over the past two decades, telemedicine has expanded into several areas in the medical community. This includes everything from EMS agencies transmitting an EKG to the hospital in advance of a patient’s arrival to connecting patients in rural communities with specialty providers in larger hospitals.

Today, in the same way the corporate office has turned into a home office, the concept of telemedicine has given medical providers the ability to work from home while still seeing patients in a virtual world. Many states now have laws requiring insurance companies to cover virtual doctor visits changing the modern dynamic of healthcare. We may have thought the days of a home doctor visit was long past, but through modern technology, the reach of a medical provider is starting to return to the patient in the home.

I saw firsthand the wonders of modern telemedicine while working in Iraq as a paramedic several years ago. General surgeons used a telemedicine video screen in the operating rooms to work directly with trauma surgeons in the United States on difficult surgeries.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may have had no idea of what telemedicine was, but today, an increasing number of people are experiencing this phenomenon firsthand through routine doctor’s visits, specialty consults, and diagnostic procedures.

With the addition of remote robot-controlled procedures, there is no telling what other advancements will follow, but for now, it seems the application of telemedicine may be limitless. There may be many uncertainties for the future of healthcare, but the one thing abundantly clear is telemedicine will continue to evolve and hold a dominant place in the new era of medical treatment.

Jeffrey Gregor is the Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee Community College

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