December 2015: Is It Time for Telehealth?

It seems like anytime you have a conversation about telehealth, the explosive growth is just a quarter away. Many of us forget that the same thing happened with “the World Wide Web” and “e-banking.” For those investors and operators suffering through the early stages of growth, progress seemed to take forever. And for the World Wide Web in particular, the dot.com boom hit a major interruption in March 2000, with many companies falling by the wayside.

But for the average consumer, before we realized it, the World Wide Web and e-banking were so prevalent that we’ve stopped using those terms.  

According to Jay Sanders, M.D., often referred to as the father of telemedicine and one of our keynote speakers at our next symposium, the same is going to happen to telemedicine.  “Before we know it,” he says, “it will just be medicine.”

Sanders is quick to point out that the real father of telemedicine, and the person who coined the phrase, is Ken Bird, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital.  In 1967, Dr. Bird connected two television cameras: one at a Logan Airport clinic in East Boston and the other at Mass General Hospital in the center of Boston.  He decided it would sound strange to call it “television medicine,” so he shortened the term to “telemedicine.”

That’s a fun story.  And it’s true.  But the point isn’t so much about the origin of the term telemedicine, but how long this industry has been around.  “I’ve been involved now for four decades,” says Sanders. “It’s taken a lot longer to take off than I thought it would.”