What Are Telemedicine and Telehealth?

What Are Telemedicine and Telehealth?

While medical services were once confined to doctor’s offices and other health care facilities, advances in technology have made it possible for providers to work with patients in the comfort of their own homes. These remote health care services help to eliminate many barriers to care, such as cost, location, and ability to leave the house due to health or transportation.

This development has been especially crucial in the wake of coronavirus, which necessitated people to significantly limit their time outside the home. Remote health care services increased in popularity, and are still being used today, so clients could keep receiving the care they need while maintaining social distancing and health protocols.

“When my facility shut down due to coronavirus, I was worried that my clients would regress in their language and communication skills,” said Danielle F., a pediatric speech-language pathologist who has been providing virtual services. “But once they adjusted to remote speech therapy, they continued making steady progress toward their goals over the next several months — all while staying safe at home.” 

She also reported an increase in parent engagement and communication when compared to her in-person sessions.

With remote health care services becoming increasingly common during COVID-19 and beyond, you’ve likely heard of both telemedicine and telehealth. Many assume the two are interchangeable, but they vary in some important ways. Here’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth, and which health care services fall under each category.

What Is Telemedicine?

According to the CDC, telemedicine is defined by the Federation of State Medical Boards as “the practice of medicine using electronic communication, information technology, or other means between a physician in one location, and a patient in another location, with or without an intervening health care provider.”

In other words, telemedicine refers specifically to the remote provision of clinical services and education. These services may include consultations with health care providers, ongoing management of chronic conditions, diagnostic testing, and follow-up visits. Telemedicine is conducted through secure video and/or audio platforms, though it may also include asynchronous sharing of health information, media, and text communication.

What Is Telehealth?

The CDC defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

Telehealth refers to a broader scope of remote health care that includes both direct and indirect services. In addition to direct patient diagnosis and treatment, telehealth services may include provider training and education, administrative meetings, and public health events or information sessions. Like telemedicine, telehealth services may be delivered through secure video and/or audio platforms. However, telehealth delivery also includes live or asynchronous transmission of media, text, and medical information.

Am I Using Telemedicine or Telehealth?

If your organization uses remote health care services, you may be wondering whether your services fall under the category of telemedicine or telehealth. Because telemedicine is included in the broader scope of telehealth, there is some overlap between the two. All telemedicine is a part of telehealth, but not all telehealth is considered telemedicine. However, there are certain activities that are generally considered the more narrowly defined telemedicine, while others fall under the broader umbrella of telehealth.

Here are some examples of services that fall under each category.

Which Services Are Considered Telemedicine?

Telemedicine services may include, but are not limited to:

  • A video appointment for consultation, diagnosis, and treatment or prescription of illness
  • Digital collection and transmission of vital signs, picture and video, and other patient health information
  • Remote nursing care and therapy sessions, such as physical therapy and speech therapy
  • Secure messaging between patients and health care professionals regarding treatment and services
  • Management of medication and chronic conditions

Which Services Are Considered Telehealth?

Telehealth services may include, but are not limited to:

  • An email sharing information about a disease outbreak in the community
  • A virtual professional development event or educational conference for health care staff
  • An online administrative meeting to discuss facility issues
  • A public health event conducted via teleconference
  • Virtual meetings for caregiver education or progress updates regarding a patient

Advantages of Remote Health Care

Whether your organization is using telehealth, telemedicine, or a combination of the two, remote health services help eliminate barriers to medical care. Here are a few advantages of telehealth.

  • Affordability: Remote health services can provide a less expensive alternative to traditional in-person office or hospital visits. When people can more readily access preventative care and take control of their health, the need for more extensive (and more costly) health care down the line is decreased. Telehealth and telemedicine also benefit a health care organization’s bottom line: fewer no-shows and increased practice efficiency save money for the facility.
  • Greater access to services: Those in rural and remote areas may not be within driving distance of health care providers, especially specialists for certain conditions. This also poses a problem for those who do not have reliable transportation, who may cancel (or even avoid making) in-person appointments if they can’t get a ride or if public transport breaks down. Through telehealth and telemedicine, more people can access care without having to travel.
  • Health and safety: Higher-risk populations, such as immunocompromised and elderly individuals, are at higher risk of becoming ill when visiting in-person facilities. They may not want to or be able to leave the home for medical care, especially now in the wake of COVID-19. Telehealth and telemedicine can enable patients to safely receive the treatment they need from the safety and comfort of their own home.
  • Increased engagement: Virtual home-based visits give health care providers greater insight into their patient’s everyday lives, allowing them to develop treatment plans that align with their “real life” needs. Additionally, professionals also have greater access to their patients’ families and caregivers, which can increase engagement, education, and carry-over.

Whether your organization uses telehealth, telemedicine, or a combination of both, remote health care makes medical care and education more accessible to many. While telehealth has increased in prevalence in recent months, its distinct advantages have the potential to transform the world of health care in the long run.

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