Understanding the Difference between Telehealth and Telemedicine


Telehealth Services In US: Advances in technology in each sector often lead to the development of new terms. The words that usually develop act as substitutes for longer explanations. Once the terms are in use by the sector, they may require periodic redefinition to incorporate the new activities they cover, which may have been previously non-existent. In the health sector, technological advancement has led to the coining of the terms telehealth and telemedicine.

Telemedicine | Telemedicine & Telehealth Services In US

It refers to using technology to practice medicine over a distance—for instance, a patient having a therapy session with their psychiatrist over a video call.

Definition of Telemedicine 

The AFFP( American Academy of Family Physician defines telemedicine as “The practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance, over a telecommunications infrastructure, between a patient at an originating (spoke) site and a physician, or other practitioner licensed to practice medicine, at a distant (hub) site.”

Telemedicine can be divided into two categories; real-time vs. store and forward telemedicine.

In the store and forward category, the communicating parties do not have to exchange data while still in contact. It entails the collection, organization, and storage of data. Sharing of the data to the intended destination for diagnosis is only done if the data is feasible. For instance, a general physician can upload data on a patient, such as their biopsy results, to the oncologist to whom they refer the patient

Real-time telemedicine means that the patient and the healthcare provider have to be in contact simultaneously. For instance, sending an email during the videoconferencing session. It involves the use of tools for the audio and visual examination and can use remote examination devices.

Telehealth   | Telehealth Services In US

It refers to the use of electronic and communication technologies to deliver healthcare services all over a distance.

Definition of Telehealth  

The AAFP defines telehealth, “Refers to a broad collection of electronic and telecommunications technologies and services that support at-a-distance healthcare delivery and services. Telehealth technologies and tactics support virtual medical, health, and education services.”

It incorporates the whole process, including diagnosis, prescription, and payment of health systems. The primary focus is on the exchange of information from one healthcare platform to another. Physicians, payers like insurers and governments, administrators, and patients can make data to make better decisions regarding the provision of services. WHO defines telehealth to include “surveillance, health promotion, and public health functions.”

Distinguishing Telemedicine and telehealth.

Sometimes people use the terms telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably. That does not mean they are similar. Comparing the two brings forth the distinguishing characteristics of each practice. Some of the differences include;

  •         Telemedicine entails clinical services only, whereas telehealth entails remote delivery of clinical and non-clinical services.
  •         Telehealth may incorporate telemedicine, but it is different in that it adds to the service range available. Telemedicine concentrates on the patient and physician only. Telehealth serves patients, healthcare providers, administrators, payers, insurers, and other health stakeholders.
  •         Telemedicine focuses on individuals, while telehealth focuses on populations. The decisions that arise in telemedicine may involve several practitioners, all catering to one patient. With telehealth, personnel from different sectors collaborate to decide the right pathways for the groups of patients.
  •         Telemedicine is a part of one process for each patient, while telehealth is a cycle that incorporates several procedures to cater to several patients
  •         Data collected from telemedicine involves patient changes, while telehealth data allows providers to identify patterns in patients with similar cases to track changes in cohorts.
  •         Telemedicine limits the choices of the patient, while telehealth offers various options for the people utilizing it.
  •         Telehealth involves the education of consumers, healthcare providers, and administrators on alternative approaches to healthcare but telemedicine offers the care without any training.
  •         The means one uses for telemedicine limits the number of patients a single practitioner can attend to simultaneously—however, telehealth simultaneous interactions of several patients, practitioners, and other decision-makers in the health industry.

Telehealth and telemedicine are only similar in that they occur over a distance. As the rules and technologies involved in both telehealth and telemedicine evolve, the lines differentiating the two get blurry to make out clear distinctions. It will require a constant review of the definitions to keep track of the changes.  It may require a total repeal of the existing rules and the formation of new ones.

The advances in the health sector have come a long way since the times of Hippocrates. With telehealth and telemedicine, the changes will only continue. The Covid-19 pandemic may have brought forth the practices, but it seems they are here to stay. People need to understand the advantages they will derive from them to realize the potential they hold. In this era of information, these practices offer a vast pool of information that, if utilized carefully, will revolutionize the health industry for future generations.