Telemedicine technology is already being used extensively around the world. Telemedicine enables general practitioners (GPs) and patients to communicate with consultants via video links; improves the transfer of data between the hospitals and GPs during emergencies; and allows students to watch experts at work.
"Building the Information Core: Implementing the NHS Plan" sets out the Government's plans for the future of telemedicine in the NHS. An extra investment of GBP 700 million in information technology in the NHS will be spent on more consultations with hospital specialists being carried out in GPs surgeries through video and tele-links, thus removing the need for patients to visit the hospital and ensuring swift diagnosis and treatment.
Part of the Government funding will also be applied to ambulances equipped with video and monitoring equipment so that patients get the most specialist care while they are being taken to the hospital. Through further investment in electronic patient records, all local health services will have facilities for telemedicine by 2005 allowing patients to connect with staff electronically for advice, book appointments, and see their test results. In the future, patients will no longer even have to leave their home to consult their GP and receive test results.
The new Telemedicine Information Service (TIS) was unveiled at the Telemed 2001 Conference in London last January. TIS aims to improve the take-up of telemedicine technology in the United Kingdom. The service is intended to give medical professionals, patients, and health carers access to top quality information on the latest projects and developments. The British Library service is designed and delivered in conjunction with Portsmouth University, with funding of GBP 90.000 over three years from the Department of Health.
Key elements of the new service include a Web site with information on over 120 current projects, an e-mail discussion list plus telephone enquiry, and current awareness services. Welcoming the launch of the Web site, Health Minister Gisela Stuart commented: "Telemedicine and telecare are an integral part of health care delivery. It is without a doubt that telemedicine and telecare services will actively take part in the normal health care service delivery in the NHS over the next five years."
"Over time, there will be more and more diagnosis carried out using video and tele-links to hospital specialists from GPs' surgeries to provide patients with an instant diagnosis in order to remove the worry of waiting for a clinical diagnosis. Paramedics will be able to receive advice from hospital consultants whilst patients are in transit in an ambulance, ensuring that they receive the care of a specialist from the outset."
Mrs. Stuart added: "As the use of telemedicine becomes more common, patients in Newcastle could be treated by a medical specialist in London to ensure equal access to the best expertise for everyone no matter where they live in the country. Technological advances offer improved access to services, rapid access to assessment and treatment, and to health information when and where patients need it."
The TIS Web site lists dozens of projects which are already up and running, providing inspiration and useful contacts for medical professionals around the United Kingdom. These include a live video surgery link to train doctors around the world, provided by the Royal College of Surgeons, and a hugely successful scheme between the Accident and Emergency Unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and a rural community hospital in Scotland.
"X-ray and visual data is digitally transmitted to our physicians. We are able to make the right decisions earlier, travelling time and discomfort for patients are often reduced, and treatment can begin sooner. Ultimately, lives are saved", explained Alan Reid, Director of Communications at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Bruce Madge, Head of The Health Care Information Service at The British Library commented: "We are delighted to be involved with this exciting project. The current emphasis from the Government on Telemedicine and Telecare and the innovative aspect of this form of diagnosis and treatment reinforces The British Library's role as a major player across all disciplines in the e-world."
The Telemedicine Information Service gives access to information about all aspects of telemedicine including organisations involved in telemedicine like hosts for projects, information facilities, publishers or equipment suppliers; people involved in telemedicine as contacts for organisations and projects; publications about telemedicine including articles, chapters, books, reports, surveys, theses and videos; and equipment used for telemedicine. The TIS objectives are to bring together those working in the field of Telemedicine and Telecare in the United Kingdom; to encourage them to share information and experience; and to provide a national information resource.
The Healthcare Computing Group developed the TIS site at the University of Portsmouth. The site has recently been redesigned and comprises a wholly revised database with free access. There are also current awareness updates from the Medline database available. The British Library publishes quarterly telemedicine updates including new references, author and subject indexes. The new service encompasses and expands on the UK National Database of Telemedicine, which won a Health Care IT Initiatives award last year for Best Publicly Accessible Health Related Information System. You can check in at http://www.tis.bl.uk to consult the Telemedicine Information Service.