The history of telemedicine

The history of telemedicine

While the last few years have seen telehealth completely revolutionize the way patients interact with their healthcare providers – especially with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic – telemedicine has actually been around for quite some time, dating back to the first half of the 20th century.

Introduction of Telemedicine in Canada and the U.S.

Despite a more recent upswing, the first uses of telemedicine date all the way back to the 1940s. Radiology images are sent between Pennsylvania townships via telephone line in the world’s first case of an electronic medical record transfer. Several years went by, and then in 1963, Massachusetts General Hospital established a telecommunications link with a medical station at Boston’s Logan Airport to assist in urban emergency and urgent situations. This was a major development for emergency medicine in the U.S., and inspired  The University of Miami School of Medicine partners with the local fire department to transmit electrocardiographic rhythms over radio to Jackson Memorial Hospital in rescue situations in 1967. 

More recently, in 1977, a formal telemedicine program established by the Memorial University of Newfoundland started with a three-month demonstration project involving one-way television and two-way audio. This is the only project of this sort launched prior to 1986, which continued into the 1990s

EHR/EMR software development and introduction 

Today, electronic medical records (EMRs) serve as digital versions of the paper charts found in a clinician’s office. They contain a patient’s medical and treatment history in one practice, while electronic health records (EHRs)  focus on the total health of the patient and go beyond standard clinical data collected in a provider’s office. 

The EMR began as an idea of recording patient information in electronic form instead of on paper.In the late 1960s, Dr. Lawrence Weed presented the EMR concept to generate an electronic record to allow a third party to independently verify the diagnosis. Touted as the Problem-Oriented Medical record (POMR), Weed’s concept focused on clinical data management.The first EMR was developed in 1972 by the Regenstreif Institute and was seen as a major advancement in the medical industry. But as a result of high costs, it was only mainly used by government hospitals. By the 1990s, the emergence of the internet made computers more common and affordable, which allowed the Institute of Medicine to project that most physicians would be using computers to improve patient care by 2000.

The 2000s saw a new wave of EHRs built around security requirements that are still around today, including physical, technical, and administrative safeguards, while leaders in the industry began to move toward more integrated and centralized systems. By 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was born, ensuring more privacy and security for patient data and making security compliancy easier with the introduction of encryption, access controls with individual authentication, and stronger audit trail features. 

What happened in 2020 with telemedicine and the pandemic?

Even prior to the onset of the pandemic, a 2016 survey found that telehealth visits and remote patient monitoring doubled, increasing from 14% to 28% of physician respondents. But the emergence of COVID-19 shed new light on the importance of telehealth as an effective option in the fight against the pandemic. Since February 2020, telemedicine grew from less than 1% of primary care visits to nearly 43.5% in April 2020. It is also estimated that 60% to 90% of physicians are using some type of telehealth service, with almost half of them adopting the technology for the very first time. Telehealth has become a major solution for preventing direct physical contact, providing continuous care to local and rural communities, and reducing Covid-19 morbidity and mortality rates.

Today, the use of telehealth technology continues to improve the delivery of health services. And as EMRs and EHRs continue to evolve with the advancements of technology, so do the solutions for issues surrounding the privacy and transmission of electronic data.