9 May 2022

The true history of telehealth

Humoural Theory

Social historian Professor Candid tells the incredible story of telephony, crabs and Geri Halliwell.


One hundred and forty-four years ago Robert Louis Stevenson invented the telephone.

The Scottish born inventor also thought up the word “tartan”, discovered black pudding, designed the world’s first crab-hat and even managed to write Frankenstein while holidaying in a caravan. 


The world’s first crab-hat!

After the Great Fire of Scotland only one photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson survived. It shows him sat at his desk writing a polite letter to his wife asking her if she’d like to have sex with him. He must have been quite optimistic about his chances because he’s already wearing his patented contraceptive suit or “Stevie” as it became known.

Robert is wearing his ‘Stevie’ hoping to ‘get lucky’

It sounds incredible but before telephones were invented people had to shout. If they lost their voice they’d have to use a carrier pigeon or just ruefully accept that what they had to say was probably not that important anyway.

Interestingly a fleet of carrier pigeons was used right up until the late 90s.

This is a picture of Mr Biggles, the very last carrier pigeon. He flew hundreds of miles to tell a teenage girl in Sydney that the Spice Girls were splitting up and that Geri Halliwell was going off to pursue a solo career. She was so upset she strangled him and that was the end of Mr Biggles as well as the Spice Girls.

This is a photograph of the first ever telephone. It’s called the Robert-Louis-Stevenson-miniature and it sits proudly on a tiny chaise longue in the National Museum of Scotland.  

Over time most modern gadgets have become smaller. Only two devices (the telephone and the butt-plug) have actually got bigger.

The story of the telephone doesn’t end there, though. For over a century the role that telephones played in society didn’t change very much, but then in 2020 the medical profession hit on the idea of using them to talk to patients they didn’t want coming anywhere near them.

And telehealth was born! 

This is the sort of modern telephone a GP might call you on (ignore the numbers on the dial, they’re just for decoration). 

Telehealth is now big business. GPs all over the place are phoning patients and the federal government has promised to spend $106 million on telephones. This means that by 2035 every practice will own at least one telephone.

If Robert Louis Stevenson were alive today he’d jump for joy.

But he’s not alive, he died ages ago, after choking to death on a piece of black pudding.


A bad invention