Telemedicine: Not Yet What the Doctor Ordered

WASHINGTON–A panel of medical and health-policy experts today released a report* urging developers of telemedicine to evaluate projects more rigorously and come up with ways to make the technology affordable in today’s climate of controlling medical costs.

Telemedicine is a field in which technologies enable doctors to practice medicine over long distances. “Telemedicine has been around 30 years, but its widely touted potential has not been reached,” says John R. Ball, president of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Ball, who chaired a 15-member panel appointed by the Institute of Medicine, blames this stunted growth on the lack of a framework for evaluating technologies and on a failure to build on the experience of earlier telemedicine projects.

The report notes that some of the technical strengths of telemedicine are also weaknesses. For instance, while medical researchers have dazzled the media with remote surgery via video conferencing, the average physician has failed to take full advantage of the information superhighway to diagnose and treat distant patients. The report says that it is difficult to know how to measure progress because of the large number of technologies or services labeled “telemedicine,” the rapid changes these technologies undergo, and the lack of standards or computerized patient records.

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