The History of Telemedicine at Texas Tech
Telemedicine began at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) in 1989 as a grant-funded research project, originally designed to connect the four campuses of the Health Sciences Center located in Lubbock, Amarillo, Odessa, and El Paso. With the use of distance communications for education and teleconferencing, it was logical that links could also be made from the main Lubbock campus to distant rural sites for the purpose of live medical consultations.
The first tele-consultation was conducted in 1990 between a physician from Alpine, Texas, and a consultant in Lubbock. This initial consultation changed the possibilities of medicine in West Texas because patients in remote areas now had access to specialty consultations that previously would have required traveling great distances. During the first week that teleconsultations were conducted, the opportunities and advantages that telemedicine could offer were illustrated when a baby girl’s life was saved due to a teleconsultation between her general practitioner in the rural Big Bend area of Texas and a neonatologist in Lubbock (See Aida Porras story).
Between the years of 1990 and 1993, TTUHSC engineers invented the "TeleDoc™", a single portable integrated package that provides the opportunity for live interactive video consultations. The unit features a roll about cabinet carrying cameras, TV screens and electronic exam equipment. Since 1993 when the first “TeleDocTM” was developed, technology has really advanced. Telemedicine carts are smaller, use less bandwidth and provide better clarity than in years past. In addition, utilizing desktop computers, laptops and even tablets are the wave of the future, allowing telemedicine to be more mobile. . Since the initial consultation in 1990, more than 49,000 consultations have been conducted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Annual telemedicine examinations number more than 4,700. These consultations have been with patients in various rural communities as well as patients in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Specialties being covered by telemedicine include: dermatology, psychiatry, burn, endocrinology, psychotherapy, pulmonology, urology, neurology and genetics.
The telemedicine program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has been recognized nationally through several distinctions and honors. The program was ranked in the top ten programs of its kind by Telemedicine and Telehealth Network Magazine in December 1996 and December 1997 and was included in the "Top 12 List" of telemedicine programs by Telemedicine Today Magazine in June 1998. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's telemedicine program was also a feature telemedicine system in Government Video Magazine in April 1998. The Texas Tech telemedicine program was named to the Telemedicine Hall of Fame in Telehealth Magazine in August 1999, one of only four programs to receive this honor. In addition, faculty and staff members of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center are frequently asked to make presentations, nationally and internationally, regarding the telemedicine program and its success.
Today, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Telemedicine Program continues to bridge the access barriers in the 108-county service area of West Texas. In addition, the Telemedicine Program continues to be involved in many projects to seek innovative ways to expand telemedicine in our most rural areas and educate others through resources, such as the TexLa Telehealth Resource Center. The Telemedicine Program provides patient services including rural health clinic-based specialty care, school-based clinic primary care, correctional telemedicine, mental health services including a school-based triage and referral project, an adolescent diabetes study, as well as an HIV+ clinic for uninsured and under-served patients in the Abilene area. In doing so, Telemedicine also provides practical training opportunities to TTUHSC students and residents to better prepare them for future use of such technologies.