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INTRODUCTION

The dynamic evolution of information and communication technologies (ICT) is allowing the exploration and implementation of the use of telehealth for the underserved, particularly in developing low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). 1,2 By definition, “humanitarian” efforts are concerned with or are seeking to promote human welfare, involving an event or situation that causes or involves widespread human suffering. Certainly this applies to addressing health issues in these developing countries throughout the world. 36 Telehealth offers the tools to provide humanitarian support in the global community to address disparities in health care at many levels, including sharing knowledge, education, training, research, and direct health care services. 7,8 To be effective, the telehealth applications must address the needs of those countries and their communities in a manner that is appropriate, realistic, and collaborative, as well as meets reasonable standards of care. 9

The world can be considered one community, with mankind its citizens. The needs for health care are universal, and these types of efforts should rise above political, cultural, religious, and historical differences. Telehealth and ICT offer tools to improve access to care, share knowledge, and ultimately improve the health and quality of life of all people in the global community, including regions where health disparities can be profound. Using advances in ICT, telemedicine and e-health are offering a means to transform systems of care for people throughout the world by not only providing greater access to clinical service, consultation, and sharing knowledge, but also addressing education and training, health systems development, public and community health, epidemiology and research.

Leap-frogging over prior barriers, rapid advances in ICT, computing, and wireless networks are offering greater continuity in access to these services in both developed and developing countries. The use of telehealth must be put in the context of the critical health needs in each country, cultural perspectives, current and future communication infrastructure, other supportive resources, and likelihood for sustainability. Furthermore, these telehealth efforts should be aimed at improving the local capacity in providing ongoing health services in each country and blending into that country's health care strategies.

In combination, these communication technologies and health-related applications constitute the concept of telehealth. As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), telehealth is providing a broad spectrum of health services over distance and the integration of telecommunications systems into the practice of protecting and promoting health. 3 . Global development and integration of communication systems and networks, wireless, and broadband are creating opportunities for international collaboration using telehealth and a platform for exchange, with the potential for formation of a true “network of networks” and “virtual collaboratory” that can be used worldwide. A network of this magnitude represents far more than a communication infrastructure because it facilitates partnerships and collaboration between health care providers and educators, public health workers, investigators, and other international organizations and stakeholders.

The time is ...

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