Telemedicine: barriers and opportunities in the 21st century

J Intern Med. 2000 Jun;247(6):615-28. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2796.2000.00699.x.


This paper aims to examine how health telematics will develop in the first 10 years of the new millennium and, in particular, to assess what operational, ethical and legal barriers may lie in the way of this development. A description of the key principles and concepts involved in telemedicine and a short historical overview of telemedicine's evolution over the past century are followed by consideration of why empirical research into 'info-ethics' and other deontological and legal issues relating to telemedicine is being necessarily catalysed by, amongst others, the European Commission. Four evolving health telematics applications are examined in some detail: electronic health records; the transmission of visual media in disciplines such as teleradiology, teledermatology, telepathology and teleophthalmology; telesurgery and robotics and the use of call centres and decision-support software. These are discussed in the light of their moral, ethical and cultural implications for clinicians, patients and society at large. The author argues that telemedicine presents unique opportunities for both patients and clinicians where it is implemented in direct response to clear clinical needs, but warns against excessive reliance upon technology to the detriment of traditional clinician-patient relationships and against complacency regarding the risks and responsibilities - many of which are as yet unknown - that distant medical intervention, consultation and diagnosis carry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Confidentiality
  • Ethics, Medical
  • General Surgery / trends
  • Humans
  • Robotics
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / methods
  • Telemedicine / trends*
  • Teleradiology