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The doctor is online
An ambitious blueprint
Temporary setback
A nation's health
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Telemedicine: a primer
University of Kansas 

Telemedicine in Asia
CNET Singapore 

Telemedicine projects throughout the world
HealthWeb, University of Iowa 

A temporary setback

Indeed, remote medical consultation was far more cost-efficient than the transfer of individuals to urban specialist centers.

X-ray, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CT (Computed Tomography) scan images; blood sample images captured from digital microscopes; audio from electronic stethoscopes; video from ultrasounds; and voice annotations from referring doctors could all be electronically transmitted.

If additional consultation were necessary, then video-conferencing sessions could link up the patient to the referring doctor and specialist.

Doctors could also update their knowledge with the latest in research and disease management by accessing the network and searching various databases.

The blueprint identified four pilot programs to kickstart the telemedicine project. These are:

  • Mass Customised/Personalized Health Information and Education, the setup of an accessible generic database;
  • Continuing Medical Education, for distance learning and upgrading of skills of healthcare givers through multimedia courseware;
  • Teleconsultation, enabling consultation between individuals and healthcare providers over networks, supported by network-linked medical instruments and imaging systems, and decision-support systems to determine diagnoses; and
  • Lifetime Health Plan, a network-based, life-long personal medical record designed to help users plan and manage their health and access health services.

The pilot programs were to be tested over five years at several sites both within and outside the MSC. But like various other components of the costly MSC initiative, the Asian financial contagion came down hard in mid-1997, and waylaid the telemedicine project.

Funding evaporated, schedules got tossed into the wind and the construction of new electronic hospitals intended to be showpieces for the project were stalled.

Renewed interest came in late 1998 when a teleradiology experimental project in Sarawak showed promise. Health Minister Chua Jui Meng reported that it was possible for a clinician at a remote hospital to get X-rays interpreted overnight by a radiologist in state capital Kuching, hundreds of kilometers away.

"Ninety percent of films sent were clear enough after being transmitted over the Internet through a plain old telephone service (POTS)," he said. Prior to this, the clinician would have to wait a month to send the films and receive the findings, Chua noted.


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