Authors: Manohari Balasingam and Sivalingam Balasingam
Telemedicine is defined as the ‘delivery of health care and sharing of medical knowledge over a distance using telecommunication systems’. Echocardiography is often used to diagnose and exclude important cardiac diagnoses in adults and children. Evolving telemedicine technology has boosted access to echocardiography and has created a network that offers many possibilities for clinical, research and teaching activities.The two primary modes of telemedicine practise are ‘ store and forward’ and ‘real time’ videoconferencing. Using these technologies, relevant, up-to-date scientific information is instantly available for analysis and interaction. Studies have also shown these to be accurate, cost effective, improves patient care, enhances echocardiography quality and sonographer proficiency and promotes practice expansion. The growing use of technology such as smart phones, laptops and computer tablets as well as newer technologies like cloud computing, picture archiving computer systems(PACS) and the standardization of medical images(DICOM) has fuelled the now accelerating specific demands for tele-echocardiography. However, all these are not without challenges and obstacles. Some of these include lack of standardization of telemedicine components, confusing medico-legal and licensure issues, privacy/confidentiality, poor reimbursement, training issues as well as attitude and acceptance. These issues need to be addressed by all those involved in medical practice. Clinicians must work with sonographers, medical IT experts, hospital management and hospital physicists as well as manufacturers and insurance companies to ensure that the new system is integrated as an extra function within ultrasound consoles. National and international societies such as the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) could play a role in bringing everyone together and define the necessary training programmes. In conclusion, the revolution in digital technology is rapidly changing the world of telecommunications. Tele-echocardiography has a bright future to become an integrated part of our clinical available echocardiographic tool set – in a matter of time.
Keywords: echocardiography, telemedicine, computer