Teleradiology: Images of an Improved Standard of Medical Care?
INTRODUCTION Teleradiology, a subset of telemedicine, is “a means of electronically transmitting radiographic patient images [X-rays, CT scans, etc.] and consultative text from one location to another.” (1) In theory, teleradiology allows a radiologist to remotely diagnose images anywhere in the world from a phone or Internet connection. As a result, a nascent international outsourcing industry has formed, providing inexpensive and efficient diagnoses of images (2) sent by American medical groups. (3) Despite this growth, regulatory entities have not embraced offshore teleradiology because of the sensitive and private nature of the transmission data, the potentially life-threatening consequences of a mistaken diagnosis, and jurisdictional issues affecting a patient’s legal recourse. This note argues that despite these legitimate concerns, the benefits of offshore teleradiology and other forms of telemedicine may increase the overall standard of medical care available to underserved and rural communities. Telemedicine may improve this standard by providing critical access to medical specialists in areas where no specialists practice, at a cost significantly lower than U.S.-based physicians. Impeding the growth of teleradiology, however, is a collection of professional organizations, federal and state statutes, and medical negligence laws that have decreased the incentive for domestic medical groups to implement telemedical protocols. While the general purpose of this regulatory collection is to protect healthcare consumers by upholding and enforcing the highest standard of medical care possible, this note argues that the regulations are too broad and unfocused. A more flexible approach by regulators may allow for and promote the use of telemedicine as a means of providing underserved and rural communities with a similar level of access to medical care as that found in urban medical centers throughout the U.S., while still protecting patients against sub-standard medical practices. The increased implementation of teleradiology and other forms of telemedicine may also create a type of “disruptive innovation that can transform traditional processes” to create benefits not currently anticipated or foreseeable. (4)