Background: Telemedicine and advanced technologies that ensure telepresence have become common practice and are an effective way of providing healthcare services.
Materials and methods: The authors conducted a traditional narrative review of English literature through search engines (Medline, Pub Med, Embase, and Science Direct) using mesh terms "telemedicine," "telepresence," "earthquake," "disaster," "natural disaster," and "man-made disaster" published between January 1, 1980 and September 30, 2013. For our analysis, only published studies were selected when telemedicine or telepresence was reported for disaster management, both in real life and in mock and simulation situations. Original articles, clinical trials, case presentations, and review articles were considered. Books and book chapters were used as well. Data from the International Disaster Database were included in the review to provide a sense of worldwide disaster occurrence. Symposia and other meetings were searched and used when available.
Results: Between January 1980 and September 2013, 17,565 disasters recorded. During this study period, 878 articles, chapters, books, and presentations were reported. Of these, only 88 articles and books fulfilled our selection criteria. Six articles described the effectiveness of telemedicine in mock simulations and disaster drills, and 63 presented the need and discussed how telemedicine would be beneficial in disaster response. Only 19 articles provided examples of effective use of telemedicine in disaster response. However, these studies demonstrated telemedicine as a valuable tool for communication between front-line humanitarian aid workers and expert physicians at remote locations.
Conclusion: Telemedicine has not been used thus in the management of disasters, despite its great potential. There is an acute need for establishing telemedicine programs in high risk areas for disasters, so that when these disasters strike, existing telemedicine networks can be used, rather than attempting to bring solutions into a chaotic situation postevent.