Technological advances are helping doctors assist patients in new and innovative ways. One of these advances has been the increasing use of telemedicine. Telemedicine is defined by the American Telemedicine Association as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” Telemedicine allows doctors to access and assist patients in remote locations.
One example of this occurred in July of 2002 in Antarctica, where the first remote surgery was performed using telemedicine. Via a two-way video conference, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital assisted physician Dr. Timothy Pollard in the South Pole with knee surgery. During the two-hour surgery, the doctor repaired a tendon in the left knee of the patient, Dar Gibson.
According to the Washington Post, the three National Science Foundation (“NSF”) stations in Antarctica still use telemedicine today to treat and diagnose patients working at these remote facilities. Doctors working at the University of Texas Medical Branch help treat scientists and support staff on the southernmost continent using video-conferencing and specialized equipment. For example, stethoscopes equipped with speakers and ophthalmoscopes with a light and a camera allow doctors in remote locations to see and hear the same things as the doctor in the room with the patient. In addition, improvements in technological capabilities such as better video and image resolution, better use of bandwidth, and electronic records have helped improve patient care.
The Antarctica stations are still fairly limited. They cannot do CT scans or MRIs. Nor are there surgical centers or postoperative facilities. In 2002, Gibson’s surgery was not done in a surgical facility. In addition, the Washington Post states that the “Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station only gets Internet access for about 12 hours a day because of the positioning of the satellites that provide connectivity.”
Moreover, telemedicine can be incredibly useful when dealing with less drastic distances. Back in the mainland United States, telemedicine can help assist patients and doctors connect as well. For example, a specialist might not be easily accessible to a patient, especially if that patient lives in a rural area. In addition, telemedicine may help those who can’t easily leave the home. In Seattle, for example, the Veteran’s Administration uses telemedicine to help veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, so the veterans don’t have to risk triggering symptoms by going out in public. Another example of a telemedicine system is at Arizona Palliative Home Care. Through the video chat system provided by Avizia, doctors are able to communicate with six to eight patients per day, which is double the rate that doctors could see patients when they had to drive all over town to each patient’s location.
As technology continues to improve, it will likely play a bigger and bigger role in medical care. Through advances such as telemedicine, doctors are able to do things now that would have been impossible a century ago. Perhaps a century from now, doctors will able to treat patients in a way we can not even imagine today.