Canada is a massive country with a sparsely distributed population and an increasing shortage of medical professionals. There is thus an increasing demand for in absentia health care. Observation and examination of a patient is of prime importance in medicine. Until very recently, it was next to impossible for a doctor to gauge the health of a patient in absentia. In the early medieval times, consultation via post was prevalent. Often, doctors would prescribe medication via post, too, and this was considered a highly lucrative technique.
In the past, African villages signalled the outbreak of serious diseases by using smoke signals, warning potential visitors of the threat of getting sick. Another example of long distance healthcare can be seen in 1900s Australia. Citizens who lived on remote areas of the country would use two-way radios powered by dynamos to consult with the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. One of the pioneers of remote medicine is Dr. John R. Brinkley. Dr. Brinkley was a highly controversial figure who hosted a call-in radio show in the early 1900s. Patients used to call and report their symptoms, after which he would diagnose their medical condition. Due to his incompetence, he was implicated in numerous court proceedings. However, Dr. Brinkley’s short-lived success spawned a variety of both television and radio shows following the same concept.
Recently, telemedicine is being slowly incorporated into the various fields of medicine. In 1975, the GR Medical College in India used a telecardiology system that allowed them to transmit ECGs from an ambulance or a patient’s home to the doctors in an ICU ward in a hospital, allowing for an earlier diagnosis. The wireless transmission was done using frequency modulation, which eliminated noise. Furthermore, technologies have been developed to use the satellite INSAT to transmit data from areas of limited mobile coverage. Telepsychiatry is another example of telemedicine. It provides psychiatric counselling to patients in remote areas by using teleconferencing. Teleradiology is the usage of communication protocols to transmit radiological images such as X-rays from one medical professional to another expert in the field. Additionally, with the use of computer-based diagnostic methods such as Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT) and sonography, it has become extremely easy to communicate data pertinent to a patient’s condition to specialist doctors almost anywhere.
With increasing mobile phone coverage, it has now become possible to wirelessly transmit medical data. Such practices are common in parts of Africa and India. My sister, in fact, volunteered to treat patients in tribal villages in the middle of the jungles of India. She was often required to consult other experts for advice. This was enabled by the use of a handheld ECG machine, a smartphone and 3G data transfer. This has enabled people who embrace a more reclusive, less urban lifestyle to get the same state of the art treatment as people living in metropolitan cities.