What’s the Difference Between Telemedicine and Telehealth?
Telemedicine and telehealth have generated a lot of buzz in recent years as telecommunications technology plays an increasingly important role in healthcare delivery. While telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some important differences.
In this article, we’ll cover the difference between telemedicine and telehealth. Keep in mind that both telehealth and telemedicine are rapidly evolving. Pertinent laws, regulations, and practices may change in the future. Organizations, solution providers, and practitioners would be wise to monitor developments and adjust accordingly.
Defining Telemedicine Software
Telemedicine refers to practicing medicine through technology, allowing medical practitioners to deliver care at a distance. For example, a doctor at a hospital in Los Angeles can use technology to provide care for a patient in rural Montana.
Defining Telehealth Software
Through the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies, healthcare, administration, and other services are delivered at a distance. Telehealth is a broad term and includes a variety of activities not directly related to the provision of care. If doctors hold an administrative meeting online, for example, this could be considered telehealth.
The Difference Between Telehealth & Telemedicine
Telemedicine can be viewed as a specific subset of telehealth, specifically the delivery of remote clinical services. Telehealth may include the delivery of remote clinical services. However, it may also include other non-clinical services, including administration and training.
For example, if healthcare practitioners, say nurses or doctors, undergo further workplace training via remote learning options, this is considered telehealth. If a doctor meets with a patient virtually to make a diagnosis and write a prescription, this is telemedicine.
Telecare is also becoming increasingly popular. Through telecare, patients can maintain independence by using mobile alert systems, mobile monitoring devices, and other technologies to track their lifestyle and monitor developments. Telecare can thus be considered a more specific part of telemedicine, which in turn is a more specific part of telehealth.
Here’s Why Both Telehealth & Telemedicine Are Important
Both telehealth and telemedicine may offer ways to improve the quality of healthcare services while also reducing costs and expanding access. In the United States and many other countries, access to healthcare in rural areas is limited. Further, doctors and other healthcare practitioners are in short supply across the world, and even those countries with the most doctors per capita, like the United States, are facing critical shortages.
Limited talent and resources are especially acute in highly specialized fields, such as neurosurgery or oncology. In the past, patients often had to travel to specific medical facilities, sometimes many hours away, for specialized services. Now, some services can be offered remotely.
By using telehealth in general and providing care through telemedicine in specific, it may be possible to increase access to health care. Field-leading experts in neurosurgery, for example, may be able to oversee surgeries and guide surgeons in different cities. As robotics continue to advance, surgeons may even be able to remotely operate robots to provide care directly.
Telehealth may reduce costs, making administration more efficient and effective. Telehealth is also useful for continued education and training. Doctors and other healthcare practitioners can easily access training and education, thereby improving their skills and knowledge, which may lead to better outcomes.
How Do Telemedicine and Telehealth work?
Both telehealth and telemedicine are empowered by the latest Information Technology Communication technologies. With telemedicine, doctors can be based in hubs, say New York City or Seattle. By using ITC technologies, however, these doctors can provide services to people located in “spokes,” such as remote clinics.
Generally speaking, both telehealth and telemedicine use software solutions to deliver services. Telehealth is broader than telemedicine, and as a result, the software solutions used are often broader. Many telehealth platforms are used by public health workers, including government officials, to spread information and coordinate efforts.
Telemedicine software solutions are often more focused and specialized, connecting doctors with patients, or doctors with healthcare providers, such as a rural clinic. These solutions typically work by making it easier and more reliable for different parties to communicate.
Through telemedicine, doctors can write prescriptions, provide directions, make diagnoses, and can carry out various other activities. Importantly, many telemedicine solutions provide two-way communication, allowing patients to communicate with healthcare practitioners.
While telemedicine solutions may be considered a part of telehealth, telehealth includes a wider variety of tools, including general tools for holding meetings and online training, payment services, and the like.
Telehealth and Telemedicine Licensing
For now, licensing and regulations for telemedicine and telehealth remain fractured. In the United States, individual states have set up their own specific regulations, rules, and practices. Some states offer reciprocity and may accept endorsements from other states.
Interstate licensure compacts are growing in popularity, with at least 29 states having joined the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. More states may join in the future. Regardless, telehealth and telesolution providers, along with the organizations and practitioners who use them, should check local laws and regulations to make sure they are meeting requirements.
If telehealth and telemedicine are being provided across state lines (which is common), providers and practitioners may need to meet the relevant rules and regulations of both states.
In regards to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, it’s imperative to check the relevant CMS telehealth rules and regulations.
Payment for Telehealth and Telemedicine Solutions
Payments are not consistent or uniform across states. At least 41 states and the District of Columbia require that both Medicaid and private insurance provide payment for some telemedicine services. In some states, payment for telemedicine, including remote patient monitoring, is not required.
Summary of the Differences Between Telemedicine and Telehealth
Telemedicine is a part of telehealth. Through telemedicine, healthcare practitioners, including doctors, can remotely deliver healthcare services, including remote patient monitoring, diagnosis, and other aspects of care.
Telehealth encompasses not just telemedicine but also a variety of other activities, including healthcare administration, continued learning, hosting online meetings, and more. Both telemedicine and telehealth are increasingly important.
Telemedicine may prove especially useful amid doctor and healthcare practitioner shortages. People living in rural areas in the United States, for example, often lack access to doctors and healthcare services. Through remote care, doctors in hub cities, such as Atlanta, can deliver services to rural areas.
Telehealth may help reduce administration costs, improve continued healthcare education, and may make it easier for organizations to coordinate activities, among other things. Both telehealth and telemedicine may improve outcomes for patients and organizations alike.
Relevant AAFP Policies:
- Telehealth and Telemedicine: http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/telemedicine.html
- Payment for Non-Face-to-Face Physician Services: http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/payment-services.html
Journal/AAFP News coverage of Telemedicine and Telehealth:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): new telehealth rules and procedure codes for testing
- Barriers Impede Telemedicine’s Potential: AAFP Leader Voices
- Barriers Hindering Use of Telemedicine: In the Trenches
Research from the Robert Graham Center:
- Video Visits with Doctor Add Convenience, Risk of Fragmentation
- Training, Adequate Payment Could Spur Greater Family Physician Use of Telehealth
- Widespread Telemedicine Adoption Blocked by Training, Payment Barriers
- Only 15% of FPs Report Using Telehealth; Training and Lack of Reimbursement Are Top Barriers
- Family Physicians and Telehealth: Findings from a National Survey
AAFP Advocacy on Telemedicine and Telehealth:
- AAFP Letter to the FCC on Telehealth in Rural America – January 31, 2018
- AAFP Letter to the VA on the Authority of Health Care Providers to Practice Telehealth Proposed Rule – October 31, 2017
- AAFP Letter to Congress on the National Defense Authorization Act – September 1, 2016
- AAFP Letter to Energy & Commerce Regarding Telemedicine Proposal – June 16, 2014
- AAFP Letter to Rep. Thompson Regarding the Telehealth Draft – May 9, 2014
- Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services