Objective: To describe the development of telemedicine capabilities - application of remote consultation and diagnostic techniques - and to evaluate the feasibility and practicality of such clinical outreach to rural and underserved communities with limited telecommunications infrastructures. Material and Methods: In 1992, Mayo Foundation (Rochester, Minn, Jacksonville, Fla, and Scottsdale, Ariz), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency collaborated to create a complex network of fiberoptic landlines, video recording systems, satellite terminals, and specially developed data translators linking Mayo sites with other locations in the continental United States on an on-demand basis. The purpose was to transmit data via the asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) digital communications protocol over the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite. The links were intended to provide a conduit for transmission of data for patient-specific consultations between physicians, evaluation of medical imagery, and medical education for clinical staffs at remote sites. Results: Low-data-rate (LDR) experiments went live late in 1993. Mayo Clinic Rochester successfully provided medical consultation and services to 2 small regional medical facilities. High-data- rate (HDR) experiments included studies of remote digital echocardiography, store-and-forward telemedicine, cardiac catheterization, and teleconsultation for congenital heart disease. These studies combined landline data transmission with use of the satellite. The complexity of the routing paths and network components, immaturity of available software, and inexperience with existing telecommunications caused significant study delays. Conclusions: These experiments demonstrated that next-generation satellite technology can provide batch and real-time imagery for telemedicine. The first-generation of the ATM and satellite network technology used in these experiments created several technical problems and inconveniences that should be overcome as the network infrastructure matures.
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