Volume 342, Number 8883 • Founded 1823 • Published weekly • Saturday 27 November  1993




Page 1313, Medicine on the superhighway, by McConnell



How might high–capacity  computer networks change the way doctors work? For any procedure that involves vision or sound (eg, monitoring the progress of anaesthesia, or giving an opinion on a biopsy slide, fetal ultrasound, or computed tomography scan) – and potentially even touch – the physician need no longer be present in the same room, or even in the same country, as the patient or specimen. Experiments with electronic transmission of images to doctors (telemedicine) have been going on since the early 1900s. Framework for European Services in Telemedicine (FEST)  is a European Community funded project intended to set standards and provide guidelines for telemedicine throughout the continent. One of the projects studied by the FEST collaborators involves transmitting radiographic images and electrocardiograph traces from remote Greek islands to Athens for interpretation by specialists. The technology is far more basic than with high–capacity computer networks: the images are digitised with a video camera connected to a personal computer and then sent to Athens via public telephone lines. Although this approach is cheap and a big advance on having no specialist advice  available, the long–term future of telemedicine surely lies with high–capacity computer networks because of their ability simultaneously to handle data in a variety of formats (multimedia).