Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology to provide health care services to patients who are geographically separated from a physician or other health care providers. According to this definition, telemedicine has been used in Arizona since the first consultation over a telephone. Interest in using telemedicine to solve a number of problems in health care delivery has been growing worldwide in recent years. The Telemedicine Action Report of the Western Governors' Association, published in 1994, outlined barriers to implementation of telemedicine and recommended a variety of actions and solutions including the initiation of statewide telemedicine networks.
Organized telemedicine services have been provided at The University of Arizona College of Medicine since 1979 by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center which handles 70,000 patient inquiries a year. The Arizona Health Sciences Center Physician's Resource Service was organized in 1990 and currently provides physicians, statewide, with specialty consultations. Last year, this service provided 11,000 consultations. Telepathology has been offered in Arizona, Mexico and China since 1993. Several other health care providers in Arizona have active telemedicine programs.
In 1996, there were several Arizona telemedicine initiatives involving the legislature, state agencies, and The Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson.
The Arizona State Legislature budgeted $1.2 M to fund the first year of operations of a new Arizona Rural Telemedicine Network. The objective was to establish various telemedicine services in eight rural communities. The hub of the Network is at The University of Arizona Health Sciences (UAHS). One site was designated to be at a Department of Corrections facility.
The Arizona Health Sciences Center, which was designated by the Legislature to house the program, proposed that goals of the enabling legislation be broadened and that the Arizona Telemedicine Program be created to oversee and coordinate telemedicine clinical, education, research and telecommunications programs, as well as to operate the Arizona Telemedicine Network (formerly called the Arizona Rural Telemedicine Network), which was incorporated into the Arizona Telemedicine Program. Thus, the Arizona Rural Telemedicine Network was incorporated into the Arizona Telemedicine Program. This was endorsed by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the Arizona State Legislature that was required by state law to provide oversight for program.
The Arizona Telemedicine Council was created by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the Arizona State Legislature. Chaired by the Chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the Council was given oversight for the Arizona Telemedicine Program and the development of its telecommunications network. Representative Robert (“Bob”) Burns, who initiated the legislation that created the Arizona Telemedicine Program, became the first Co-chairman of the Council which has met quarterly in Phoenix since 1996.
Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, an international authority on telemedicine and telepathology, and Head of the Department of Pathology of the Arizona College of Medicine, was named Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, by Dr. James E. Dalen, Vice President for Medical Affairs at the Arizona Health Sciences Center and Dean of the College of Medicine. Richard A. McNeely, Director of Biomedical Communications, was named Co-Director