Living Well: Telemedicine

Reprinted from PN May 2001
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Telemedicine is the use of communication technologies to provide information that supports healthcare when distance separates providers and patients. It consists of activities that provide direct or indirect clinical services and often includes educational and administrative responsibilities such as distance learning. For example, in remote or rural areas, specialists can provide education or insight on clinical issues. Although the telemedicine concept has been part of the medical arena for decades, it has only recently filtered into bedside clinical medicine—thanks in large part to the decreasing cost of network hardware.

Telemedicine's advocates say the potential is almost limitless, and it will enhance quality of care. Projects include teleradiology (filmless digital x-ray imaging), telepathology, telenuclear medicine, home telephone monitoring of cardiac pacemakers, telephone liaison care programs, and interactive voice response systems.

Adversaries of telemedicine say it might impede face-to-face clinical decision-making and decrease quality of care. A critical component of the technology's effectiveness is learning how and what to monitor in telemedicine's quality. Monitors need to prove the efficiency of the therapeutic and diagnostic impact on patients while documenting cost effectiveness, privacy, and security. Clinical standards and guidelines for practice, technical interoperability, and human resources all must be monitored.

While the technology has tremendous potential, it is clear there are legal, ethical, and medical issues to consider while also providing quality patient care.

For information on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA's) use of telemedicine, visit


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Living Well: Telemedicine


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