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Telemedicine in 100 Years?

Can you imagine the ATA meeting’s 100th anniversary? Will there still be an ATA? Will we still be making the distinction between “traditional medicine” and “telemedicine”? One would certainly hope not and we can only speculate on what healthcare will even be like in 2093 (ATA was formed in 1993). But if there was an ATA 2093 what would it look like? Impossible to tell of course but maybe another 100th anniversary meeting has parallels to share.

RSNA 100th Anniversary

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this week in Chicago at the McCormick Center. RSNA is the largest radiology meeting in the world with well over 50,000 attendees from about 125 countries. The exhibit halls are unlike any other meeting with everything from CT and MRI machines to EHRs, teleradiology and patient dose solutions. I have been attending since 1987 and look forward to it every year as a chance to see what’s new and exciting in radiology. I have seen and experienced first-hand the advent of new imaging technologies and the transition radiology made from film to digital that simultaneously ushered in teleradiology and paved the way for many of today’s image-based telemedicine applications.

RSNA 2014

One of the neat exhibits at this year’s 100th anniversary is an area dedicated to a retrospective view of radiology’s history. A virtual Wilhelm Rontgen, the discoverer of x-rays and winner of the first Nobel Prize in Physics welcomes attendees to the exhibit. Would the 100th ATA have a virtual Rashid Bashur, Jay Sanders, Ron Weinstein or Jane Preston welcoming attendees? Will the exhibit have old telemedicine units and peripherals that attendees will gawk at and wonder how we ever succeeded in using such antiquated, clunky machines? At RSNA there are old x-ray generator tubes, one of the earliest CTs, an old x-ray table and other artifacts of the early days of medical imaging.

Early x-ray table

It’s fun to take a walk through the past and explore the roots of radiology and someday we might do the same with telemedicine, but I actually think not. In just over 25 years, ATA has grown exponentially and helped dramatically change the face of not only telemedicine but medicine itself. Nearly every medical conference today has some talks and/or exhibits discussing and promoting the use of telemedicine. But as with radiology it seems these talks are slowly being incorporated into the general programs rather than side-lined to special tracks dedicated to that tele stuff. Teleradiology is rarely referred to these days as teleradiology – it is outreach imaging, enterprise imaging or just plain imaging. At a 6-day meeting with over 4000 educational and scientific offerings, I found less than 10 talks that specifically mentioned teleradiology. Yet going to other talks it is clear how pervasive teleradiology is in the US and around the world and how integrated it is with in-house services.

This is the future of telemedicine as well – a fully integrated service component of all clinical specialties, providing care to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Who knows where telemedicine will be in 2093, but it will be here and if is probably safe to say that everyone will be touched by it in some way – we just won’t be calling it telemedicine anymore and yes we will be gawking at all those clunky telemedicine carts wondering how we ever made it this far!

About the Author

Elizabeth Krupinski, Ph.D. is a Professor at Emory University in the Department of Radiology & Imaging Sciences and is Vice-chair of Research.. She is Associate Director of Evaluation for the Arizona Telemedicine Program and Director of the SWTRC. She has published extensively in these areas, and has presented at conferences nationally and internationally. She is Past Chair of the SPIE Medical Imaging Conference, Past President of the American Telemedicine Association, President of the Medical Image Perception Society, and Past Chair of the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine. She serves on a number of editorial boards for both radiology and telemedicine journals and is the Co-Editor of the Journal of Telemedicine & Telecare.

Elizabeth Krupinski's picture