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20th century

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During the 1960s, numerous accounts of wireless transmission of ECGs, cardiac monitoring, and even X-ray images were reported. In 1968, a seminal telemedicine project was established involving Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Logan Airport. Staffed by nurses, the “medical station” at the airport was linked via microwave relay to MGH as a means of providing primary and emergency services to travelers and airport staff. viii 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) played a major role in the development of telemedicine. NASA had an obvious need to assess the health of astronauts while in space, beginning with the Mercury Program in the early 1960s. The program, named STARPAHC (Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care), lasted until the late 1970s.  Satellite communication opened up telemedicine opportunities for large rural areas. In 1972, NASA’s applications technology satellite (ATS-1) began providing telecommunication access for health care between numerous smaller communities in Alaska and larger hospitals. ix  The success of this program resulted in a significant expansion over the next several years.  

In the mid-1970s, Memorial University of Newfoundland started working in the area of telehealth, with 30 projects undertaken over 20 years. Notably, this Newfoundland program has been cited as the only pre-1986 program that survived into the 1990s.In 1984, the Australian government set up the q-network via satellite. This pilot program, called the north-west telemedicine project, delivered health care to five remote towns in the northern territory. A 1989 publication on this program described improvement in the quality of healthcare and discussed how it reduced some healthcare costs.  

The 1990s is regarded as the “developmental years” of telemedicine. This was the decade during which many large state and system projects emerged. Telecommunications evolved to the point that it was more available and affordable. Further, state and federal legislation pushed the field forward by recognizing telemedicine as a reimbursable mode of care provision.  

Finally, in 1993, the American Telemedicine Association was launched.