Telemedicine, or the use of telecommunications and information technology to deliver clinical health-care services, has become a fixture in some rural hospitals in the United States. Much of this presence is due to heavy government subsidies and grants, which leaves health officials unsure if telemedicine is cost-effective in these clinical settings. Other barriers-legal, financial, and technological-have limited its widespread use, and some critics charge that telemedicine is an unwise investment for improving public health.

BOTTOM LINE: NLM's donald Lindberg says better studies are needed to determine if telemedicine can work in clinical settings.
Health officials note that telemedicine could have a positive impact on the research community. Using real-time teleconferencing equipment and the Internet, telemedicine allows rapid communication between investigators, speeds the translation of articles, and improves information access and education in developing countries. Telemedicine already is used in a variety of medical specialties, including telepsychiatry, teleophthalmology, telerehabilitation, and...

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