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Technical marvels can also be medical marvels

This interview originally aired on "In the Moment" on SDPB Radio.

If you had to get ahold of your doctor in a hurry 200 years ago, your means were limited.

The telegraph changed that. And, of course, the telephone after that. And computers and the internet further revolutionized (and digitized) what a visit to your doctor could look like.

So today, to dive into the topic of medicine and technology, we're going to connect with a doctor via phone. And we'll bring you this conversation over the web.

Jill Kruse, DO, is an On Call with the Prairie Doc® team member.

Telegraph, Telephone, Telemedicine
By Jill Kruse, DO

Technology has come a long way in the past 200 years. The telegraph was invented in 1837 and made rapid long-range communication possible. Messages could be sent around the world through a series of connected wires.

The telegraph had medical applications in the Civil War. It was used to order medical supplies and report information about injuries and casualties to medical teams. This was cutting-edge technology at the time, but it now is considered an obsolete method of communication.

Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. By 1900 there were nearly 600,000 telephones in use. At the end of 1910, there were over 5.8 million active telephones. The telephone was seen as a tool to connect doctors and patients together over a distance. A report in The Lancet Journal from 1879 described how a doctor could use the telephone to listen to a baby’s cough and diagnose croup.

In 1924, The Radio News Magazine predicted a two-way video encounter with a “radio doctor” using a television-like device. In 1959, the University of Nebraska became the first place to use two-way video communications for telemedicine applications. This was done using closed-circuit television to connect medical students at the main campus in Omaha with patients at the Norfolk State Hospital 112 miles away. However, telemedicine as we know it today did not get its start until the 1970s.

Telemedicine can also be used to send radiology images remotely to radiologists who can be in a different state or even a different country. With the improvement of cellular technology, EKGs can be sent from the back of an ambulance to the hospital. Before a patient even sets foot inside the door of the hospital, the emergency room doctors and cardiologists can be prepared. This can not only save time but can save lives when someone is having a heart attack.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increased push to use telemedicine for virtual visits in the clinic setting. Telemedicine has also been used when patient transfer from smaller hospitals to larger tertiary care centers is not possible or when dangerous winter driving conditions make transfers unsafe. This technology helps bridge the gap in medical care between rural areas without specialists and urban medical centers.

The jump from telegraphs to telemedicine with virtual visits is a big one. I can only imagine what the next 200 years of technological advancements will bring to how we deliver health care. No matter how we interact, there will always be a doctor ready to connect and help you stay healthy out there.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.
Ellen Koester is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.
Ari Jungemann is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.