The terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” have become mainstream in the healthcare delivery landscape. While both these terms have been used interchangeably in recent times, telehealth and telemedicine both have different definitions. As virtual delivery of healthcare goes mainstream, the line of distinction between telemedicine and telehealth has blurred considerably.
However, the debate of telehealth vs telemedicine continues to rage on. While it has become commonplace for people to use either of these terms when they talk about remote healthcare delivery, knowing the context behind each of these terms and the knowledge to use these terms correctly.
So what exactly is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
What is telehealth?
The Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.”
The term telehealth encompasses a broad range of technologies and services to provide patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole. It refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine.
Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services.
What is telemedicine?
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.”
Telemedicine has many applications and holds tremendous benefits for improving overall health outcomes. The digital transmission of medical imaging, remote consultations, medical diagnosis and evaluations, specialist consults are all examples of telemedicine.
Evolution of Telemedicine and Telehealth
Telemedicine literally translates to “healing from a distance”. While the use of the term can be traced back to the mid-1800s, it remained a figment of fantasy until the early 20th century. In the 1940s, doctors sent over radiology images between two townships in Pennsylvania, over a distance of 24 miles.
The first instance when video communication was used for medical purposes was in 1959 when doctors at the University of Nebraska set up two-way televisions for transmitting information to students across the campus.
While technologies for remote delivery of healthcare services continued to evolve and increase in adoption, it was only in the 21st century that they have finally been able to go mainstream. As more and more hospitals and private practitioners alike move towards developing a custom telemedicine platform, a telemedicine app development company can get you the industry insights you need to succeed.
With advancements in communication technology, widespread adoption of mobile phones and internet, and technological innovations like healthcare wearables, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics and cloud computing, virtual healthcare delivery is transforming the healthcare field like never before.
However, throughout the advancements, a clear distinction between the terms telehealth and telemedicine has blurred.
In a 2009 report by WHO, telemedicine is restricted to service delivery by physicians only, while telehealth signifies services provided by health professionals in general, including nurses, pharmacists, and others.
American Telemedicine association classifies telemedicine and telehealth on the basis of the clinical environment. It views telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable terms, encompassing a wide definition of remote healthcare. Telemedicine is considered as the natural evolution of healthcare in the digital world although telehealth may not always involve clinical care.
Center for connected health policy (CCHP) differentiates between telemedicine and telehealth on the basis of the scope. Telemedicine is often still used when referring to traditional clinical diagnosis and monitoring that is delivered by technology. However, the term telehealth is now more commonly used as it describes the wide range of diagnosis and management, education, and other related fields of health care.
Telehealth vs Telemedicine
Telemedicine is essentially a subset of telehealth. Thus, telemedicine is a type of telehealth but all telehealth services cannot be classified as telemedicine.
Depending on the way it is delivered, telehealth can be classified into four distinct categories.
1. Video conferencing
Also known as synchronous telehealth, there is a real-time two way interaction between the participants through video conferencing technology. Real-time telemedicine consultations also fall in this category.
A group of physicians attending a virtual live training session or public health initiatives that involve real-time video conferencing with a group of participants fall under this subset of telehealth.
2. Store and forward
Transmission of digital images and videos over a secure network falls under store and forward telehealth, also known as asynchronous telehealth. Since the interaction between the patients and the providers does not take place on a real-time basis, the data is collected, transmitted and stored using internet and communication technologies.
Store and forward telehealth is also useful in cases where specialist referral is required.
3. Remote patient monitoring
Use of medical devices and healthcare wearables to collect patient data and transmit it over to the consulting physician. RPM technology can help physicians deliver care in at-home scenarios based on the patient data and vitals that the devices send over. It is also proving to be highly beneficial in post-hospitalization care and treatment of chronic conditions.
Use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tables to deliver care virtually falls under mHealth. By using smartphones to conduct telehealth consultations and transfer patient data, clinicians are able to streamline healthcare delivery and improve outcomes.
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