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Telehealth or Telemedicine

“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. These include, but are not at all limited to:

  • Dentistry
  • Counseling
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Home health
  • Chronic disease monitoring and management
  • Disaster management
  • Consumer and professional education

Defining Telehealth in Policy

State and federal agencies often differ on how they define telehealth. For example, California law defines telehealth as:

“The mode of delivering health care services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient's health care while the patient is at the originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site. Telehealth facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients and includes synchronous interactions and asynchronous store and forward transfers.”

Meanwhile, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) 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.”

Telehealth Modalities

Telehealth encompasses four distinct domains of applications.  These are commonly known as:

Live video (synchronous): Live, two-way interaction between a person (patient, caregiver, or provider) and a provider using audiovisual telecommunications technology.  This type of service is also referred to as “real-time” and may serve as a substitute for an in-person encounter when it is not available. 

Store-and-forward (asynchronous): Transmission of recorded health history (for example, pre-recorded videos and digital images such as x-rays and photos) through a secure electronic communications system to a practitioner, usually a specialist, who uses the information to evaluate the case or render a service outside of a real-time or live interaction. As compared to a real-time visit, this service provides access to data after it has been collected, and involve communication tools such as secure email. 

Remote patient monitoring (RPM): Personal health and medical data collection from an individual in one location via electronic communication technologies, which is transmitted to a provider (sometimes via a data processing service) in a different location for use in care and related support. This type of service allows a provider to continue to track healthcare data for a patient once released to home or a care facility, reducing readmission rates.

Mobile health (mHealth): Health care and public health practice and education supported by mobile communication devices such as cell phones, tablet computers, and PDAs. Applications can range from targeted text messages that promote healthy behavior to wide-scale alerts about disease outbreaks, to name a few examples.