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A Brief History of Telehealth Technology

The Top Milestones That Made Telehealth Possible

Telehealth has been making its mark on the healthcare community for decades. Today, over 90% of healthcare executives say their organizations are developing or have already developed a telehealth application. This is a recent development, made possible by years of technological innovation and federal regulation. Learn more about the history of telehealth and how we got to where we are today.

1948: First Radiological Images Sent Via Telephone

The telephone proved more useful than just connecting folks all over the country. Doctors started using this new communications tool to send radiological images to other specialists, speeding up the data transfer process.

1959: University of Nebraska Uses Telemedicine to Transmit Neurological Examinations

This is the first case of health professionals using the telephone to send and receive medical documents across long distances.

1960s: Nebraska Psychiatry Institute Uses Closed-Circuit TV for Psychiatric Consultations

The television was changing the ways people send and receive information all over the country, but the Nebraska Psychiatry Institute took things one step further. By broadcasting live, psychiatrists could interact with their patients even though they weren’t in the same room.

1961: U.S. Space Program Conducts Test Flights with Animals Using Remote Medical Monitoring Systems

Before the U.S. shot a man into space, the Space Program sent animals into space and used remote sensors to monitor their condition as they left the earth’s atmosphere. This paved the way for remote patient monitoring commonly used today.

1990s: The Internet is Born

We wouldn’t have telehealth without the internet. With a globally interconnected computer network, healthcare professionals can send and share information with just a few clicks. This laid the foundation for our modern healthcare system.

1993: Founding of the American Telemedicine Association

With the internet up and running, the healthcare community started realizing the potential of these new communication tools. This non-profit organization is designed to promote and expand telehealth technology companies as a way of increasing patient access to care. The organization stays on top of the latest telehealth news, educating patients and healthcare professionals about the benefits of telehealth.

2009: ARRA Drives Digital Connectivity in Medical Technology

In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, the country was suffering from mass unemployment and slow economic growth. The federal government tried to boost the domestic economy and replenish the country’s infrastructure with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

This landmark legislation poured money into the American Healthcare system, including HITECH (Health Information for Economic and Clinical Health), spending a total of $155 billion. The bill allocated over $25 billion to health information technology, which spurred growth in healthcare digital connectivity.

Telehealth would be nearly impossible unless every healthcare provider is using the same system. This bill gave health systems the support they need to get online and connect with other systems in the field.

2010: CMS Rules on Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records

Once the ARRA was passed, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ruled on what constituted as meaningful use regarding electronic health records. Citing concerns over patient privacy, the organization tried to clarify how this information should be shared in the digital age. Meaningful use is defined by the use of certified EHR technology in a meaningful manner, such as prescribing medication and improving the quality of care.

2016: HRSA Receives Funding to Expand the Use of Telehealth in Rural Areas

Studies have shown that individuals living in rural communities can benefit the most from telehealth. The Health Resources and Services Administration received $16 million in 2016 to expand access to telehealth services in rural areas.

Telehealth still has a long way to go before it becomes the backbone of our healthcare system, but these accomplishments and milestones illustrate how far this technology has come over the years.