Telemedicine/telehealth: A National Development Tool and Economic Engine

Article excerpt

Telemedicine, or more broadly telehealth, is no longer an experiment. To different degrees, almost all nations are exploring its place and potential in national systems of healthcare. In addition, because telecommunication technology is at its core, it can transcend national boundaries to impact, and be impacted by, globalization. It is a tool that nations can use within their borders to address their internal health, societal, and economic issues. It also has the potential to help shape collaborations to assist resource-challenged nations with internal issues of population health and the economics of healthcare. Further, it can facilitate international approaches to global issues of aging, infectious disease, health care disparities, public health, and the health-related problems that result from natural and man-made disasters or from conflicts.

This symposium explores this multidimensional concept of telehealth and its potentials focusing on a case study of an European country with a long and successful history of using information technology (IT) in healthcare; two European countries collaborating for mutual interest; and, an Eurasian country with a vast territory over which healthcare issues must be addressed. Together, the contributors provide insight concerning the questions of telemedicine/telehealth as an economic engine, and of the barriers between unrealized and achieved potential.

The first article by Bergmo and Johannessen focuses on telemedical dissemination of expertise and Health Information Technology, exploring if they "... have met the expectations and fulfilled the potential for improvement in health ... " and examining the slow ness of telemedicine's diffusion into mainstream use, but also documenting areas of stimulated economic activity attributable to telemedicine. The second article authored by Cholewka reviews the collaboration between Lithuania's Kaunas Medical University Hospital and Sweden's Lund University Hospital/Uppsala University in leading a team aimed at improving Lithuanian pathology, with the potential for program expansion to other Baltic and post-Soviet countries, as well as for extension into other disciplines. Khasanshina and Stachura's article highlights the socio-economical impact of telemedicine in the Russian Federation, in particular the impact of Sovietera medicine, recent national decisions to accelerate telecommunication infrastructure deployment, and the shift in resource requirements that occur when health policy focus includes chronic disease management. …