The idea of telemedicine—health care provided using telecommunications equipment—has a lengthy history. Radio News, an American magazine, devoted its cover to a patient at home consulting a doctor in his surgery via a television link as long ago as 1924. When NASA began monitoring astronauts in space in the 1960s, fantasy became reality. It has been touted as health care’s future ever since.
But even smartphones and tablets have failed to usher in the telemedicine revolution: most health care still happens face to face. Now, enthusiasts think the wait is nearly over. Governments have been slow to embrace an approach that could improve coverage and outcomes, as well as saving money. But they are under increasing pressure from ageing populations and a surge in chronic diseases, just as public budgets are being squeezed.