A literature survey was carried out to identify papers describing teleconsulting applications. From 1259 potentially relevant articles identified through Medline, 128 articles were selected for review. The majority of these had been published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare (50 articles, or 39%). We analysed different user groups, equipment and implementation issues, and the type of connections. In 101 studies (79%) the teleconsultations were between doctors, in 11 they were between patient and doctor, in seven between patient and nurse, and in nine between nurse and doctor. Studies of consultations between patients and health-care professionals were thus quite rare. Surgery was the most common specialty in which teleconsultation was described. The teleconsultations were realtime or mainly realtime in 72% of articles. In 39% of studies the primary focus was on videoconferencing. The most common means of connection was by ISDN digital lines (38%). There were very few mentions of how to ensure data protection or to maintain patient confidentiality. We conclude that, for the majority of teleconsultation needs, asynchronous communication is the most flexible and cost-effective approach. Realtime videoconferencing can be justified only in particular circumstances.
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