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International society links national e-health interests

International society links national e-health interests

The International Society for Telemedicine has relaunched with a new agenda to support e-health through global communication and cooperation. The ISfT (http://www.isft.org/) is inviting telemedicine societies from around the world to link up and promote best practice through cross-border dialogue.

The ISfT originally formed in 1995 to represent individuals with an interest in telemedicine. But as the e-health enterprise expanded and national telemedicine societies emerged, the ISfT's role became increasingly unclear, said Prof. Michael Nerlich, trauma surgeon at Regensburg University Medical Center in Germany and president of ISfT. So the society ceased operating in its original form and reinvented itself as an organizational umbrella.

"Telemedicine is not a national issue," Nerlich said. "It operates without borders. But national societies are focused on their own country. It therefore makes sense to have an umbrella society that deals with problems in communicating medical information between countries."

ISfT members will discuss the legal, organizational, and practical obstacles to location-independent e-health at international and regional telemedicine conferences run in collaboration with national groups, Nerlich said. Preparations for next year's main ISfT meeting, to be held in Brisbane, Australia, are already under way. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will host the society's 2005 international conference.

Work is also in progress to relaunch the ISfT's Web site with an up-to-date description of the society's new charge, Nerlich said. Papers outlining best practice in international telemedicine will eventually be posted on the site, and members will also be encouraged to communicate via e-mail.

Nerlich said he is optimistic that the ISfT will help promote e-health across specialties. Radiological images, for example, could be accompanied by pictures from dermatology, endoscopic movies, or a patient's clinical history, transferred electronically from one doctor to another.

"Some teleradiology projects are driven not only by radiologists, but also by internal medicine doctors or surgeons who need to see clinical data as well as the radiological images," he said. "We are trying to enrich pure teleradiology programs with more clinically oriented aspects. This is the next step for telemedicine."

Incorporation of digital images and data will become increasing important as the concept of a distributed electronic healthcare record becomes reality, he said. A European EHR, for instance, would let a doctor in Germany view x-rays of his or her patient taken in an Austrian hospital.

The ISfT's first priority, however, is to become more visible in its new format, Nerlich said. The society only reestablished itself during the 8th International Conference on the Medical Aspects of Telemedicine in Tromsø, Norway, on Sept. 14. Efforts will be made to entice national telemedicine societies under the umbrella and to encourage individual membership in countries where no national organization yet exists.


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