It may seem that the piqued interest in telemedicine over the last few years can be attributed to telecom advances. The truth is that telemedicine has been around since the 1960s, when astronauts first went into space. In fact, NASA built telemedicine technology into early spacecraft and spacesuits to monitor astronauts' physiological parameters. Yet other milestones mark telemedicine's journey to where it is today.
- 1964: Under a grant from the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health (NMH), the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute began using a two-way closed-circuit TV link between the Institute itself and Norfolk State Hospital about 112 miles away. The link was used for education and consultations between specialists and general practitioners.
- 1967: A medical station was established at Boston's Logan International Airport and linked to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), miles away within the city of Boston. Physicians at MGH provided medical care to patients at the airport 24 hours a day, using a two-way microwave audio/video link.
- 1971: The U.S. National Library of Medicine's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communication chose 26 sites in Alaska to verify the reliability of telemedicine via satellite communications. NASA's ATS-1 satellite was used for this experiment.
- 1972: NASA began trial runs of its Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care (STARPAHC) program for telemedical help for people living in remote locations with little or no medical services, like Arizona's Papago Indian Reservation. Engineered by NASA and Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. (now Lockheed-Martin), the system used two-way microwave transmissions to link paramedical personnel located in mobile (vans) and fixed stations with medical experts at hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix. The program lasted until 1975.
- 1972: The Health Care Technology Division of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) funded seven telemedicine research and demonstration projects: the Illinois Mental Health Institutes in Chicago, Ohio's Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Massachusetts' Cambridge Hospital, Illinois' Bethany/Garfield Medical Center in Chicago, Minnesota's Lakeview Clininc in Waconia, Dartmouth Medical School's INTERACT in Hanover, N.H., and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. The next year, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funded two more telemedicine projects: the Boston Nursing Home project for geriatric patients, and the Miami-Dade project between Florida's Dade County and Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital.
- 1977: Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland participated in a Canadian Space Program for distance education and medical care, using the joint Canadian/U.S. Hermes satellite.
- 1984: The North-West Telemedicine project was set up in Australia to pilot test the Australia government's Q-Network satellite communications network. The project's goal was to provide health care to people in five remote towns south of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
- 1989: After a massive earthquake hit the Soviet Republic of Armenia, the U.S. offered the Soviet Union, under the auspices of the U.S./U.S.S.R. Joint Working Group on Space Biology, use of a one-way international telemedicine network for consultations between Yerevan, Armenia, and four medical centers in the U.S. The Space Bridge program was later extended to Ufa, Russia.