The practice of using the Internet to provide care is growing. Reports show a widespread uptick in the number of practices and consumers adopting these tools and the latest market trend reports suggest the telehealth global market will soon reach $148 billion.
Telemedicine solves a number of problems plaguing healthcare; access to care, rising costs, and provider shortages are just a few. By now you’ve probably at least heard about this type of care delivery and the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine.” These are often used interchangeably. But what is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
Understanding Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
To understand the differences between telemedicine vs. telehealth, we must start with a baseline understanding of these tools. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) defines the difference between telehealth and telemedicine in the following ways:
· Telemedicine uses technology to deliver care to a remote patient. Typically, a physician will be located in one location and the patient at another, and a telecommunications (Internet) infrastructure will provide the vehicle for care delivery.
· Telehealth is the broader scope of these types of remote services. Telemedicine refers specifically to virtual clinical care delivery while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical care delivery.
With this definition in mind, what are the ways to deliver this type of virtual care? What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine in the technology and tools used to deliver medical care?
The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine
To define the types of tools used to deliver care under these virtual models, we’ll turn to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Their definition suggests several telehealth modalities currently in use today:
· Synchronous telehealth models are real-time communications via video and audio conferencing. These services encompass the typical telemedicine visit between patient and provider.
· Asynchronous telehealth, which is often referred to as “store-and-forward,” transmits data, images, video, or audio between two clinical providers or from one site to another for evaluation.
· Remote patient monitoring includes collecting data from a remote patient and delivering it to a care facility or clinical provider for monitoring or evaluation.
· Mobile health (mhealth) includes health education, information delivery, or even a clinical consult delivered via a mobile device. Mhealth applications (apps) are growing in popularity.
With these definitions in place, let’s explore how these tools are used in the real world of healthcare delivery today.
Examples of Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
Synchronous telehealth is two-way communication between a provider and patient that occurs online and not in the traditional office setting. Think of it as a virtual house call, where the doctor is connected to a patient via a video conferencing service such as MegaMeeting.
To provide this service, both patients and care providers must have a broadband Internet connection, a personal digital device such as a laptop or tablet, and a working camera and audio device. Today, these are tools that are obviously common; from our desktops to mobile devices, we are the most connected generation in history. This growing connectivity empowers telehealth providers like the Cleveland Clinic, which offers telehealth services for more than seven million outpatient visits each year.
Asynchronous telehealth allows one clinical provider to send data, such as x-rays, over the Internet securely. This type of “store-and-forward” service allows for convenient and efficient clinical consults that benefit patients in organizations like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA is a recognized leader in using telehealth services, including asynchronous consults, to improve care delivery. Clinical consults occur regularly between VA providers, particularly for dermatology and diabetes care by using store-and-forward telehealth. These tools “stress collaboration and best practices over real-time, video-based treatment,” according to mHealth Intelligence. Some examples of store-and-forward applications include:
· A radiologist can review x-rays taken at a remote location, review them, and forward back a clinical diagnosis.
· A dermatologist can review digital images of a patient’s skin and other data, then make a diagnosis.
· A remote endocrinologist can review digital data and provide adjustments to medication to support an ER team at a rural hospital when no on-site specialist is available.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is distinctly different from asynchronous telehealth. RPM allows clinicians to monitor patients from wherever they are and transmit the data from that location back to the clinical team. These tools are most effective for monitoring chronic long-term diseases (such as diabetes) or for cardiovascular care. The studies show that RPM is effective in improving healthcare outcomes and even reducing mortality.
Mobile health is expanding at a tremendous rate. One research study suggests the mHealth market alone will be worth more than $316 billion by 2027. This market seeks to capitalize on the growing use of cell phones. Today there are more than 4.6 billion people that use these tools. mHealth providers offer medical apps that provide remote healthcare monitoring and direct healthcare provider (telemedicine) visits by phone. Medical News Today suggests that mhealth tools can improve treatment compliance, increase patient monitoring, and reduce clinical overhead.
No matter the telehealth delivery mechanism, there are clear benefits to virtual care that make it useful for clinical providers. What are the benefits of telemedicine vs. telehealth?
What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine vs. Telehealth?
Telehealth services offer a distinct advantage over the traditional on-site clinical visit, whether the service is RPM or a 1:1 telemedicine visit between a patient and practitioner:
· Reduced wait times for appointments. Patients have faster access to high demand clinical specialists.
· Reduced unnecessary ER trips, saving hospitals and patients thousands of dollars per clinical encounter.
· Improved convenience of care for patients who no longer have to travel to see their provider for routine visits.
· Reduced overhead for both clinical care providers and patients who save on travel costs.
· Improved care coordination between clinical providers.
· Improved access to care, particularly for rural patients that may not have a specialist in their area.
· Improved clinical outcomes.
· Reduced in-office patient no shows.
When it comes to the benefits of the virtual visit, there are few differences between telehealth and telemedicine. These services improve access to care, cut costs, and provide patients with convenient and quick access to clinical care.
MegaMeeting offers secure, HIPAA-compliant telemedicine video conferencing to our healthcare clients. Talk to our team about how we can help improve your clinical practice and patient care delivery.
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