Telehealth and telemedicine are similar terms that are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean two different things. Telehealth is a much broader term that includes clinical and non-clinical healthcare services delivered via video and audio communication tools. Telemedicine is a more limited term that falls within the description of telehealth. It is used to describe the utilization of remote clinical services and telecommunications technology to diagnose, treat, and monitor a patient’s conditions. Use this guide to learn about the differences between telehealth vs. telemedicine and examples of each.
What is telehealth?
The term telehealth refers to the use of technology and electronic communication tools to support clinical and non-clinical healthcare services. It has a broader scope and covers all aspects of virtual health.
“Telehealth is using remote audio and visual platforms for all healthcare needs,” says Joseph Pazona, MD, the founder and president of VirtuCare. “Not only does this include telemedicine (direct patient care), but it can include remote monitoring of patients, educational resources, and general advice.”
E-health is yet another term used to describe electronic healthcare delivery and is often used interchangeably with telehealth.
Telehealth services are available to help support patients who may have trouble receiving medical or supportive care. Several factors impact a person’s ability to take part in ongoing and preventative care, including the area in which he or she lives or mobility limitations. Most rural areas have insufficient specialty providers, making it difficult to receive care without traveling long distances. For many, travel expenses and limited transportation options prove to be another barrier.
Some examples of telehealth include:
- Remote patient monitoring
- Healthcare employee training
- Administrative meetings
- Health education
- Counseling and mental health services
- Health resources and coaching
- Using apps to view lab tests results, track blood sugar or blood pressure, or request refills from the pharmacy
- Two-way communication with a healthcare team through phone, email, or patient portals
What is telemedicine?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), telemedicine is the use of communication technologies to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases and injuries despite geographic barriers. Telemedicine involves using live video conferencing and audio communication tools to connect patients with their healthcare providers in real-time, without physically going to an office.
“Telemedicine is the delivery of medical care remotely using audio and/or video communications,” says Pazona. “This involves a virtual visit between a physician and a patient for medical diagnosis and treatment.”
Other examples of telemedicine include phone consultations and virtual visits using video technology on a smartphone or laptop. Many telemedicine platforms include urgent care, behavioral health, preventative health, and chronic care services. Licensed healthcare providers offer treatment plans to help patients manage their health without having to take a trip to the clinic for an in-person examination. Telemedicine also includes follow-up care for the management of chronic conditions.
What is telecare?
Telecare is another term that refers to the use of technology for patient care, but it’s a bit different from both telehealth and telemedicine.
Telecare is the technology that allows patients to be monitored from home. Examples of telecare include remote patient monitoring (RPM), emergency medical alarms, and video services that help monitor patients who are at risk for injury or require continued monitoring.
The primary purpose of telecare is to remotely monitor high-risk patients so they can continue to live in their own environment. Telecare allows healthcare professionals to monitor patients for things like falls, drops or spikes in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, or breathing difficulties. There is even technology that monitors and warns physicians when their diabetic patients are showing signs of inflammation that could lead to limb-threatening ulcers.
Telehealth vs. telemedicine
|Definition||A broad term that describes the use of technology to support both clinical and non-clinical healthcare services.||The use of video and audio technology to deliver clinical services to patients from a distance.|
Note: Both telehealth and telemedicine require the provider to use HIPAA-compliant software to protect personal health information. This includes protecting videos, photos, and any data that is shared through telehealth platforms. The same compliance guidelines are required for both remote healthcare services and in-person visits.
“While telemedicine had limited insurance coverage in the past, the COVID pandemic has changed regulations around telemedicine coverage,” says Samantha Addison, head of clinical operations at Paloma Health. “Most major payers, including Medicare, will cover telemedicine. Many telemedicine companies also have affordable self-pay and membership pricing. This has made it easier than ever to get quality care and to shop around for the clinician who works best for you.”
Many major health insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna, offer coverage for telehealth services. The amount of coverage depends on the individual’s specific plan. Many other commercial insurance companies have partnered with telehealth providers to offer low-cost appointment options since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
United Healthcare (UHC) is another example that is making medical care more accessible by providing options for telehealth services through preferred partners. Coverage varies based on state regulations, but many of UHC’s plans, including employer-sponsored health plans and Medicare Advantage plans, offer telehealth visits with a copay.
Compared to in-person clinic visits, telehealth can cut costs for many people seeking treatment and condition management. Telehealth reduces transportation costs, time spent away from work, and the need for childcare. Patients seeking behavioral health support can take part in regular therapy sessions without the additional expenses or scheduling hassles.
SingleCare’s 2021 telehealth survey analyzed the responses of 1,700 American adults to better understand how they are adapting to the influx in telehealth services. According to the survey, 60% of participants had their telehealth services covered completely by their private insurance or Medicare plans. Another 26% had their services partially covered by their insurance plans. Only 8% of those surveyed had to pay 100% for their virtual care out of pocket.
Out of those who paid out of pocket for telehealth, 62% reported an average cost of $0 to $30 per telehealth visit, with many private insurers charging the same rates for both virtual and in-office visits. This data shows promise that telehealth is becoming more affordable, making healthcare services more accessible to the public.
If you’re looking for telehealth resources, be sure to check with your insurance provider and your physician’s office for coverage and accessibility information. Be sure to ask about copays and reimbursement options.
- Telemedicine, World Health Organization
- HIPAA Compliance for telehealth providers, Chiron
- Opening new doors to care with telehealth, BlueCross BlueShield
- Virtual care (telehealth) options, Cigna
- Telehealth visits, United Healthcare