Telemedicine Program - Education Centers

Telemedicine Directory

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Two different kinds of technology make up most of the telemedicine applications in use today. The first, called store and forward, is used for transferring digital images from one location to another. A digital image is taken using a digital camera, ('stored') and then sent ('forwarded') by computer to another location. This is typically used for non-emergent situations, when a diagnosis or consultation may be made in the next 24 - 48 hours and sent back.
The image may be transferred within a building, between two buildings in the same city, or from one location to another anywhere in the world. Teleradiology, the sending of x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs (store-and-forward images) is the most common application of telemedicine in use today. There are hundreds of medical centers, clinics, and individual physicians who use some form of teleradiology. Many radiologists are installing appropriate computer technology in their homes, so they can have images sent directly to them for diagnosis, instead of making an off-hours trip to a hospital or clinic.
Telepathology is another common use of this technology. Images of pathology slides may be sent from one location to another for diagnostic consultation. Dermatology is also a natural for store and forward technology (although practitioners are increasingly using interactive technology for dermatological exams). Digital images may be taken of skin conditions, and sent to a dermatologist for diagnosis.
The other widely used technology, two-way interactive television (IATV), is used when a 'face-to-face' consultation is necessary. The patient and sometimes their provider, or more commonly a nurse practitioner or telemedicine coordinator (or any combination of the three), are at the originating site. The specialist is at the referral site, most often at an urban medical center.  Videoconferencing equipment at both locations allow a 'real-time' consultation to take place. The technology has decreased in price and complexity over the past five years, and many programs now use desktop videoconferencing systems.
There are many configurations of an interactive consultation, but most typically it is from an urban-to-rural location. It means that the patient does not have to travel to an urban area to see a specialist, and in many cases, provides access to specialty care when none has been available previously. Almost all specialties of medicine have been found to be conducive to this kind of consultation, including psychiatry, internal medicine, rehabilitation, cardiology, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and neurology. There are also many peripheral devices which can be attached to computers which can aid in an interactive examination. For instance, an otoscope allows a physician to 'see' inside a patient's ear; a stethoscope allows the consulting physician to hear the patient's heartbeat.
Many health care professionals involved in telemedicine are becoming increasingly creative with available technology. For instance, it's not unusual to use store-and-forward, interactive, audio, and video still images in a variety of combinations and applications. Use of the Web to transfer clinical information and data is also becoming more prevalent. Wireless technology is being used for instance, in ambulances providing mobile telemedicine services.

by: Nancy Brown M.L.S.