Background: Today there is much debate about why telemedicine has stalled. Teleradiology is the only widespread telemedicine application. Other telemedicine applications appear to be promising candidates for widespread use, but they remain in the early adoption stage. The objective of this debate paper is to achieve a better understanding of the adoption of telemedicine, to assist those trying to move applications from pilot stage to routine delivery.
Discussion: We have investigated the reasons why telemedicine has stalled by focusing on two, high-level topics: 1) the process of adoption of telemedicine in comparison with other technologies; and 2) the factors involved in the widespread adoption of telemedicine. For each topic, we have formulated hypotheses. First, the advantages for users are the crucial determinant of the speed of adoption of technology in healthcare. Second, the adoption of telemedicine is similar to that of other health technologies and follows an S-shaped logistic growth curve. Third, evidence of cost-effectiveness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the widespread adoption of telemedicine. Fourth, personal incentives for the health professionals involved in service provision are needed before the widespread adoption of telemedicine will occur.
Summary: The widespread adoption of telemedicine is a major -- and still underdeveloped -- challenge that needs to be strengthened through new research directions. We have formulated four hypotheses, which are all susceptible to experimental verification. In particular, we believe that data about the adoption of telemedicine should be collected from applications implemented on a large-scale, to test the assumption that the adoption of telemedicine follows an S-shaped growth curve. This will lead to a better understanding of the process, which will in turn accelerate the adoption of new telemedicine applications in future. Research is also required to identify suitable financial and professional incentives for potential telemedicine users and understand their importance for widespread adoption.