Telehealth and telemedicine have quickly become two of the most commonly used healthcare terms. Both make it easier for healthcare professionals to communicate and collaborate with their patients. But what does telehealth and telemedicine mean and can the phrases be used interchangeably?
The International Organisation of Standardisation defines telemedicine as the ‘use of advanced telecommunication technologies to exchange health information and provide health care services across geographic, time, social and cultural barriers.’
Their definition of telehealth is the ‘use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance’.
Keep reading for deeper look at telehealth vs telemedicine.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to the utilisation of technology in providing medicine and health care services to deliver care at a distance. Essentially, a physician in one location uses telecommunications infrastructure to deliver care to a patient at a distant site. The International Organisation of Standardisation has taken this further, defining telemedicine as the ‘use of advanced telecommunication technologies to exchange health information and provide health care services across geographic, time, social and cultural barriers.’
Telemedicine technology has allowed high-quality healthcare services to be delivered to the most remote and rural areas, while helping reduce emergency room visits and hospitalisation rates. Follow up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management and specialist consultations can be provided remotely delivering a higher level of care. Through the implementation of a telemedicine service, patients receive swifter referrals and transfers between healthcare professionals, reduced travel times and associated costs. Clinicians have greater work flexibility, increased efficiencies and improved patient outcomes. All parties experience a greater continuity of care, as well as cost efficiencies.
Examples of telemedicine include:
- Digital transmission of medical images between healthcare centres and practitioners for diagnosis
- Transmission of patient vital information such as temperature, blood pressure, ECG and blood sugar levels
- Remote medical diagnosis and evaluations
- Video consultations with specialists to facilitate, diagnose, treat and possibly prevent disease or injury
- Home-monitoring for the elderly
- Remote counselling, monitoring and management of chronic disease
- Follow-up consultation post-surgery or post-hospitalisation
- Medication management
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is broader. It is all-encompassing, and includes education services for providers, administrative meetings, remote monitoring of vital signs, as well as remote doctor-patient consultations. The International Organisation of Standardisation defines telehealth as the ‘use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance’. The World Health Organisation sums it up succinctly as telehealth includes ‘surveillance, health promotion and public health functions.’
Telehealth technologies can include video conferencing, the internet, store-and-forward (asynchronous) imaging, streaming media, as well as terrestrial and wireless communications. These technologies support long distance clinical health care, guaranteeing access to primary care providers and specialists, especially for patients who may have trouble receiving care. Telehealth enables the remote diagnoses and evaluations of patients, and the ability to remotely detect medical condition fluctuations so that treatment, medications or therapy can be altered accordingly.
Telehealth can be delivered via:
- Video consultations and conferencing – real time, two-way interaction between patients and clinicians which support healthcare services
- Mobile health or mHealth – delivery of health information over mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones
- Remote health monitoring or remote patient monitoring (RPM) – gathering and transmitting patient data to providers from a patients’ location using information technology
- Asynchronous services – transmission of medical reports and scans when there is no-real time interaction between clinician-clinician or patient-clinician
Examples of telehealth include:
- Two-way communication with patient to practitioner online consultations
- Sharing and reviewing of results and reports with clinicians including vital patient data, test results and clinical imagery
- Patient diagnosis, counselling, and consulting
- Remote patient monitoring
- Remote physical and mental therapy sessions
- Specialised education and training for medical professionals
- Administrative meetings
Telehealth and telemedicine refer to different ways of administering healthcare with the integration of technology to improve access, effectiveness and efficiency. Both support the broader goal of making remote clinical services accessible, and improving the efficiency of the overall healthcare system.
Definition: A broad term that describes the use of technology to support both clinical and non-clinical healthcare services.
- Remote patient monitoring
- Healthcare employee training
- Administrative meetings
- Health education
- Counselling and mental health services
- Health resources and coaching
- View test results, track patient vitals data
- Communicating with a healthcare team
Definition: The use of video and audio technology to deliver clinical services to patients from a distance.
- Phone consultations
- Virtual video visits
- Telecommunications technology and software