The intersection between medicine and technology can be quite confusing. Often times, the terms telemedicine and telehealth are used interchangeably. However, there is a distinction between the two.
Telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance. A physician or other healthcare provider uses telecommunications technology for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and injuries. All of the healthcare services are provided to patients remotely via video, smartphones, email, etc. That being said, this particular practice eliminates the need for an in-person visit.
Typically, telemedicine aids in the management of chronic conditions, medication management, follow-up visits, and video consultations with specialists.
Telehealth, on the other hand, includes a wide range of technologies and services to deliver care and to improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole. It facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients. This particular practice encompasses 4 infrastructures:
- Live video or “real-time”
- Store-and-forward or asynchronous;
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM);
- Mobile health (mHealth);
Telehealth supports health education services, such as remote monitoring of vital signs and remote doctor-patient consultations. Furthermore, it crosses paths with other related fields of healthcare, such as physical therapy, dentistry, and counseling.
All telemedicine is telehealth, but not all telehealth is telemedicine
Telehealth is a more universal term that describes a broader scope of healthcare services. In addition to remote clinical services, it can also refer to remote non-clinical services. Examples of remote non-clinical services include provider training and administrative meetings – to name a few.
Nowadays, telehealth expands beyond traditional diagnostics and monitoring. It includes other healthcare approaches, such as educating patients and healthcare providers.
While telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, telehealth is a subset of e-health. “E” stands for electronic. E-health is a fairly recent practice that uses electronic processes and communication for health. It encompasses a variety of systems, including electronic health records (EHR) and ePrescribing, among others.
When patients have e-health resources at their fingertips, they can better manage their conditions and their own care. Having said that, e-health empowers patients to take an active role in their health. It also allows them to gain a deeper understanding of exactly what their healthcare provider is doing to help them.
Changing the current paradigm of care
Both telemedicine and telehealth aim to make health management easier for patients and to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery. A greater effort is being made to:
Expand access to care:
- Remote patients can obtain healthcare services more easily;
- Remote hospitals can provide emergency and intensive care services;
Improve health outcomes:
- Patients can receive early stage diagnosis and treatment accordingly;
- Patients can experience reduced complications, reduced hospitalizations, as well as reduced mortality rates by 15-30%;
Reduce healthcare costs:
- The implementation of home monitoring programs can reduce the high cost of hospitalizations;
- Care coordination can reduce the high cost of patient transfers for stroke and other emergencies;
Address shortages and mis-distribution of healthcare providers:
- Specialists can serve more patients via telehealth technologies;
- Nurses can serve more patients via telehealth technologies;
Support healthcare education programs:
- All healthcare providers can obtain continuing education more easily;
- Rural physicians can consult with specialists more easily;
Support patients and their families:
- Patients can receive treatment within their local communities and they can remain close to family and friends;
- Patients can take on more active roles in their healthcare;
- Clinical staff can remotely participate in consultations with family members;
When it comes to global health management, how is it possible to draw a distinction between two terms that have the same goal? Both telemedicine and telehealth are connecting patients with physicians and providing them with access to care. Additionally, these practices have an interest in advancing the health of patients and their communities – wherever they are.
Whether you call it telemedicine or telehealth, there is no denying their impact on revolutionizing the healthcare industry. And as the industry matures, these terms are converging.