Understanding Telemedicine and Telehealth

While telemedicine and telehealth have been around for years, they have become more popular in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although many offices and clinics have reopened, many healthcare professionals are still using online resources to connect with their patients.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine allows patients to be cared for at a distance, through the use of technology. This form of electronic communication makes remote, interactive communication available, all from the comfort of the patient’s home. Telemedicine is a cost-effective method for providing medical care.

With telemedicine, healthcare providers and patients can still have the same conversation they would in-person. Symptoms, medical issues, medications, and more are discussed via virtual interactive communication. 

Types of telemedicine include:

Interactive medicine (synchronous) – When doctors and patients communicate in real-time via a two-way video conference call. 

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) – Patients have mobile medical equipment that doctors can monitor for blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and more. 

Store and forward (asynchronous) – In the same way a cloud-based platform is used, healthcare providers can share their patient’s health information with other health providers. 

Source: GoodRx

For patients whose doctors do not provide telemedicine, there is an abundance of companies that can assist them with alternative virtual healthcare.

Here are some of the many telemedicine companies available to choose from:

  1. MeMD
  2. TelaDoc
  3. Amwell
  4. MDlive
  5. Doctor on Demand
  6. iCliniq 
  7. Virtuwell
  8. LiveHealth Online
  9. HealthTap
  10. PlushCare

Source: Healthline

What is Telehealth?

Similar to telemedicine, telehealth is another method in which medical services are delivered via technology. To put it simply, telemedicine uses remote technologies to deliver health care, health information, and health education to patients. The scope and reach of telehealth, is broader than telemedicine, as it goes beyond providing clinical care. 

Like telemedicine, telehealth uses the same three types of technologies (interactive medicine, remote patient monitoring, and store-and-forward), but also provides mHealth. Mobile health (mHealth) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistances, and other wireless devices.”

Differences between telemedicine and telehealth 

Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, telemedicine and telehealth are not the same. Telehealth is an umbrella term of which telemedicine is just a small part. Telemedicine focuses purely on the clinical applications of technology (treatment, diagnosis, and consultation) used by doctors only. 

On the other hand, telehealth is a broader term that goes beyond the clinical aspects of medicine. Health-related services that are a part of telehealth may focus on counseling, public health, and other non-clinical services. 

Telehealth includes some of the following services below:

  • Wellness visits (general care)
  • Prescriptions 
  • Eye exams
  • Urgent care conditions
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Dermatology
  • Mental health counseling 

Source: Telehealth.HHS.gov

The benefits of telemedicine and telehealth

Because of how easily accessible telemedicine and telehealth are for both patients and providers, there is an abundance of benefits that they provide, such as:

  • No commute – Virtual medical visits eradicate the need to travel for both patients and providers, saving them time.
  • Same-day visit – More often than not, patients who use telehealth can see a provider faster than they would in person. 
  • Lessened exposure to COVID-19 – One of the most significant benefits of telehealth is that it can help prevent the spread of the virus (as patients will not be in the office).
  • More significant assessment: Providers can often provide a better analysis of health concerns for their patients. 

Source: Hopkins Medicine

Challenges

Given how beneficial telemedicine and telehealth can be, there are still some problems, especially since they both require technology. Here are some of the main issues with telemedicine and telehealth:

  • Accessibility – Despite many advances in technology and the ability for people to access the internet from anywhere, many still don’t have access. This can be an issue as they may not go to a clinic or office in person for specific reasons.
  • Misdiagnosis – When patients use telehealth services, they are typically connected to healthcare providers who do not have their medical history. Without prior knowledge of the patient’s medical conditions, there is a higher risk of the provider giving an improper diagnosis. 
  • Compliance with state and federal regulations – Many regulations can hinder the ability to practice telehealth in many states. This can cause additional problems for healthcare facilities, as they may receive reduced reimbursement rates for their telehealth services, when compared to in-person services. This year, 29 states have telehealth parity laws, which allow for reimbursements for telehealth services, so according to InTouch Health, rates should remain the same as for in-person services.

Conclusion

Telemedicine and telehealth are great alternatives to visiting a doctor in person. Some medical issues are best addressed directly at an office or clinic. The current pandemic has made telemedicine and telehealth more popular options for patients, but any urgent inquiries or emergencies still need to be addressed in person.