The University of Arizona

Rare Glimpse at the Early Days of Telemedicine

By George Humphrey, September 20, 2001

The University of Arizona Health Sciences Library has been given a substantial collection of rare archival material relating to a NASA-sponsored telemedicine project in Southern Arizona during the 1970s.

The Library received the gift from Dr. Ronald Weinstein, head of the UA pathology department and director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program. The "Arizona Archive of Telemedicine" is a joint project of the Arizona Telemedicine Program and the Arizona Health Sciences Library.

The collection, consisting of reports, correspondence and photographs, details the workings of STARPAHC, a telemedicine project on the Tohono O'Odham (then Papago) reservation during the 1970s. STARPAHC, carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Indian Health Service, stood for "Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care." The papers also include reports from other telemedicine projects that were in progress during the same period.

These materials will be of great interest to those studying the first attempts to use electronic technology to deliver health care at a distance. Materials in the archive document the technology chosen and explain the strategies employed to "invent" telemedicine. The library plans to hire an archivist in the coming months to organize the collection and to ensure the preservation of these unique materials.

"This collection will be of great value to scholars interested in the historical roots of 'e-health care,' its early successes and failures," Weinstein said. "Arizona has had important experiences with multicultural telemedicine for more than a generation. As other major institutions extend their e-health networks around the world, the Arizona experiences provide a frame of reference for studies on the critical roles of telecommunications in health care in the information age."

The archive includes progress reports from the first multi-specialty telemedicine practice, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, as well as planning documents for other pioneering telehealth projects in the Southwest.