Depending on whom you talk to, telehealth – health care services practiced remotely through telecommunications technology – has been around anywhere from more than a century to the advent of the space program.
Its foundation is built on several factors, with each new technology, sparking more inventive ideas and, in recent years, realities that are expected to turn it into a $34 billion industry by 2020. A late 2016 Harris Poll found most Americans – as many as 72 percent – are eager to give telehealth a try.
And hardly a week goes by when there aren’t new developments further expanding telehealth’s reach, whether its new technological innovations or more consumer-friendly legislation.
So, where did it all begin?
- In 1844, the electric telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse. Communication is key and when he tapped out “What hath God wrought?” from the Capitol in Washington D.C. to the Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore in 1844, the answer was clear. It set the stage for telehealth.
- And here’s the proof! By 1906, Nobel Prizewinning Dr. Willem Einthoven was sending electrocardiograms through a telephone line.
- Even when something didn’t work as imagined, such as Dr. Hugo Gernsback’s teledactyl in 1925, the idea of radio signals generating a video beamed from a robotic hand remotely examining the patient was far ahead of its time.
- In 1964, an interactive video link was established between Nebraska Psychiatric Institute and Norfolk State Hospital, 112 miles away. And soon after, NASA took the whole concept out of this world, developing a program that allowed doctors to monitor and treat astronauts in outer space.
- By the 1970s, telehealth was off and running, physicians seeing in it ways to treat rural and underserved people around the country, such as those living on the Papago Indian reservation in Arizona.
- On June 25, 1989, Ada Evans was treated for a heart attack, she was having at home through the use of a MDphone transtelephonic defibrillator.
- The American Telemedicine Association was founded in 1993 to promote consumers’ access to telehealth services.
- And in 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 84 percent of Americans used the internet and two-thirds owned smartphones, proving that services such as WellVia offers were readily accessible across the country.
If only those early pioneers were still here to see what they started! Fortunately for the rest of us, it’s simply a click away.