Taking the "Tele" Out of Telemedicine

 Every so often, I hear a pivotal sentence that sticks. During the 90s, a friend of mine commenting on a current White House scandal observed, "If you always tell the truth, you never need to remember what you said." Or, an ethical observation by a dean at my college seminary: "None of us got to where we are without some help along the way." At a U.S. House roundtable yesterday on veterans' telehealth, I heard another one: "We should be striving toward a point at which we see telehealth as simply health care."

Yesterday's convening by House Committee on Veterans Affairs brought together the medical community, veterans groups, and NTCA, which represented the voice of rural broadband providers. The goal of the two-hour gathering was to explore avenues by which telehealth can improve health care for veterans. A significant part of the conversation focused on licensing issues, and whether legislative amendments to current laws are necessary to enable physicians to provide telemedicine services across state lines. But, rural providers' efforts received attention, too. Public/private partnerships such as the Virtual Living Room/VALOR pilot, which will give McKee, Kentucky (served by NTCA member Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative) area veterans access to VA telehealth and other on-services at no cost, were singled out for scrutiny and follow-up questions. And, NTCA took advantage of the opportunity to explain the difference between rural areas served by its members and areas in which broadband has not been deployed.

The debate surrounding licensing issues took an interesting turn when a member of Congress, who sits on the sub-committee and who himself is a physician, asked why telemedicine was any different than a patient calling him while on vacation for advice or for a prescription. If anything, he wondered aloud, telemedicine via video conference should enable richer physician/patient interaction.

A participant in the roundtable agreed, stating his organization's wish to take the "tele" off telemedicine, and to move to a point at which it is simply viewed as ordinary medical care.

On the tech front, today's Wall Street Journal featured an article that explores the expanding role of 3D printing in medicine. Previously in this blog, we have discussed the usefulness of 3D printing for prosthetics or joint replacements. The WSJ describes a medical team that printed a model of a patient's pelvis prior to surgery. The model enabled the team to plan the procedure in a way that saved the patient's leg from amputation. Stay tuned for more on this and other notes on the intersections of technology and medicine.

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