NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Telemedicine Advances All the Way to Antarctica

April 10, 2013

Advances in data transmission and communications have led to the ability for doctors in different geographic regions to consult with a patient or interpret X-rays or lab results from afar. Indeed, new videoconferencing technologies and special medical instruments are expanding access to medical care as far away as Antarctica, says the Washington Post.

  • Doctors at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) are consulting with scientists and support staff located at a research station in Antarctica.
  • The specially designed medical instruments enable doctors to diagnose heart attacks, inspect a lesion or even provide psychiatric counseling to these patients in the most remote region of the globe.
  • Higher quality video and image resolution, plentiful bandwidth and electronic medical records have made telemedicine a viable service for the Antarctic research station.

While the capabilities at the research stations are limited, there are possibilities for telemedicine to fill gaps in medical care. The equipment can't perform surgery, give CT scans or conduct MRIs but can be useful when treating most primary care issues.

  • A stethoscope equipped with a microphone allows a doctor to hear a patient's heartbeat and special ophthalmoscopes use a light and camera to allow a doctor to see inside of a patient's eye in real time.
  • One day surgical robotics could enable surgeons to perform remote surgeries.
  • The equipment is designed to be portable and has aided doctors in making critical treatment decisions.
  • The telemedicine consultations save money through fewer medical evacuations, which can cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Telemedicine holds promise for domestic medical care, as well. With millions of Americans soon entering the health system under the Affordable Care Act, experts predict a shortage of specialists. Telemedicine is ideal to help alleviate the additional stress on the health care system.

  • Telemedicine is already being used by doctors to treat children in rural areas and researchers suggest that the technology could be used to look after the chronically ill inside their homes.
  • The challenge with telemedicine is how insurance companies and doctors bill these services in a meaningful and fair manner.

Source: Sarah Halzack, "Telemedicine Makes New Advances, All the Way to Antarctica," Washington Post, April 7, 2013.


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