The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine
Their definitions and how they've evolved in modern healthcare
Telehealth vs. telemedicine: What’s the difference? Once upon a time you could get away with using them interchangeably when virtual care first blasted into the modern healthcare market at the start of the pandemic.
Since then, the digital healthcare space has exploded into a more complex industry filled with smaller sub-fields catering to D2C and B2B healthcare services. As the digital health umbrella continues to get wider, the way we use the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” is becoming more intentional.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is an umbrella term for 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”.
Telehealth has been around in some form for hundreds of years. In fact, an 1879 article in the Lancet talked about using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. Similarly, in 1925, a cover of Science and Invention magazine showed a doctor diagnosing a patient by radio. So, how has the meaning of “telehealth” evolved into the modern healthcare industry?
It includes the technology, platforms, training and any other healthcare services that are provided and utilized remotely by both patients and providers. As the industry continues to grow and new digital health markets start popping up, it’s important we become more intentional about the way we use “telehealth” vs. “telemedicine” to differentiate remote care. Currently, telehealth is used to refer to the broader scope of remote healthcare services, even those that are non-clinical, like meetings or continued clinical education.
Here are some categories that can fall under telehealth:
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices
Virtual provider/clinician trainings
Electronic health record (EHR) platforms
Digital health platforms
In addition to those categories, there are also several use cases where the use of telehealth has proven to be convenient:
Treating patients with chronic conditions that require constant monitoring or data capture
Increased access to specialists and specialty care management
Greater access to medical care for those located in rural or remote areas
Reducing the amount of urgent care and clinic visits for an overwhelmed health care industry
Intuitive, HIPAA compliant software to store patient data that allows providers to access a more complete patient history
Easier to track and manage bigger patient populations for clinical trials and research
What is Telemedicine?
While “telehealth” represents the broader scope of remote healthcare services, “telemedicine” refers specifically to the remote, real-time clinical services (two-way) or patient-to-provider interactions. For example, this can include wellness visits, diagnostic labs, chronic condition management, treatment management, facilitating access to specialists and more.
Telemedicine has to do with the treatment or diagnosis from a provider to patient using remote technology and telecommunications. This can be done using both synchronous and asynchronous methods of communication. However, with telemedicine still being so new to the modern healthcare market, asynchronous methods are notorious for not being reimbursed by payers.
Types of telemedicine delivery:
Asynchronous or “store-and-forward”
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices
Additionally, there are some fields of medicine that have seen a huge benefit to introducing and utilizing telemedicine delivery such as:
Geriatrics and Orthopedics (assisted living or skilled nursing facilities)
Synchronous and asynchronous care
Diving a little deeper into telemedicine, there are two main ways providers and patients can give and receive care remotely. Let’s start with the most popular remote delivery; synchronous care.
Synchronous telemedicine is when patients and providers communicate real-time via video conferencing or audio-only appointments. This is often the delivery model that most health insurance companies will reimburse for. So, this can definitely influence what providers and patients prefer when it comes to affordability.
There are benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind when choosing synchronous care.
Established a provider/patient relationship
Most insurers cover synchronous care
Reduce late arrival/no-shows
Increase reach and exposure
There is still some wait time
Could experience some technical issues
Asynchronous telemedicine, also known as “store-and-forward”, is the other common delivery method of virtual care. The patient and provider do not interact in real-time via video or audio and there is usually a time delay in communication between the two parties. It’s also important to note that many insurers do not reimburse many forms of asynchronous care, although that is starting to change.
There are benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind when choosing asynchronous care.
Increase access to specialty care
Overcome language and technical barriers
Provider schedule flexibility
Increase in clinical workflow efficiency
More patients seen
Loss of personal touch
Most insurers don't currently reimburse
Can telehealth and telemedicine be used interchangeably?
Basically, there is no set rule that says you can’t use them interchangeably. In fact, you can use telehealth to refer to telemedicine if you’re referencing the industry as a whole, but the same can’t be said vice versa. Telemedicine, as a term, does not include the broader scope that telehealth does. It strictly refers to the interaction between provider and patient.
Part of this push towards specificity stems from its increased use in studies, medical journals and interviews where using definitive, detailed language is best practice. For example, if an individual references a specific virtual care service or provider-to-patient interaction as telehealth, that could include any form of technology or communication that falls under it too.
Even just by switching it with telemedicine, it's already specifying that the data or situation they’re referring to is an interaction between the patient and provider. Eliminating other areas of virtual care interactions and exchanges.
Leading the industry in telehealth delivery
Now that you have a better grasp on the difference between telehealth and telemedicine, we’d like to introduce OpenLoop! We offer a full-suite of superior services that give health organizations and their providers the tools to build better patient outcomes. Services like our intuitive, API driven technology platform and 6000+ NCQA accredited clinician network—just to name a few—allow our clients to manage their patients and build better patient outcomes.
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Our full suite of Telehealth Support Services include: