Demystifying Telemedicine

Since starting with gpTRAC I have taken to dropping references to telemedicine into everyday conversations with friends, family, peers, coworkers, even dates—just to see how people respond.  I am considering it a sort of ongoing investigation into the general public’s perception of telemedicine.  And so far what I have found is that people’s comfort with the subject is a mixed bag.  For example, at a recent Minneapolis Health 2.0 networking event, I met a doctor from Agile Medicine who told me he uses telemedicine every day, and launched right into examples: store and forward, videoconferencing with patients, etc.  However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I had a fellow graduate student recently say to me “when I hear the word telemedicine the only thing I think of is teleportation, which makes me think it’s not real.” The comment made me laugh, but it also serves as an example of the sense of mystery many people associate with the topic.

So the question is this:  how can we, in the healthcare field, demystify, clarify, and normalize telemedicine for patients and providers in the Great Plains region (and hopefully beyond)?

My advice is to begin by always defining what we are talking about when we use the word telemedicine, and I would like to offer a few definitions and resources to help.

The first is the Oxford English Dictionary, as many people’s choice for definitive information on the English language.  According to the OED Telemedicine is defined as: “the remote medical diagnosis and treatment of patients by means or with the aid of telecommunications technology, e.g. by use of the telephone or videoconferencing for consultation, remote-controlled robotic assistance in specialist surgery, etc.; this field of medicine[1].” The word itself is a combination of the Greek root Tel- meaning afar, or far off, and medicine.  The American Telemedicine Association is another great place to find clear and concise information on telemedicine, as demonstrated by their even simpler definition: “[Telemedicine is] the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients’ health status.” On our Introduction page, gpTRAC offers a comprehensive list of current telemedicine practices that can add tangible examples to either of the definitions above (and you can always contact us here for specific questions, which our experts will gladly help you answer!).  Additionally, Access Telehealth has an excellent FAQ section that covers both telemedine and telehealth.  Or for the more visually inclined, LearnTelehealth.org and the South Central Telehealth Resource Center put together this video tutorial:


There is a lot of good information out there on telemedicine, but it seems to me like the bridge between that information and the people it could be most useful for is rickety at best.  However, I think we can change that, and in my own life am trying to start by making telemedicine a topic of daily conversation with the people around me.  Do you have other definitions and resources to suggest?  If so, post them below and let us know!

[1] Oxford English Dictionary
Photo credit:  EmpowHER, http://www.empowher.com/media/reference/telemedicine-next-medical-frontier