What is Telehealth and Telemedicine?

Every year, new advancements in technology allow for new and exciting ways to deliver quality healthcare. One continually growing area of medical care is telehealth and telemedicine. So what is telehealth, and how does it differ from telemedicine?

The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine

It’s not uncommon to hear the terms telehealth and telemedicine used interchangeably, and in truth they are not completely different. If you remove the tele prefix from the words, the difference is essentially the difference between health and medicine. Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, and refers to the diagnosis and treatment of patients by physicians and medical professionals remotely through telecommunication systems and software. Anything involving actual clinical care by medical professionals to patients would fit under the telemedicine umbrella. Meanwhile, telehealth is expanded to include other health-related communications through telecommunications systems. Additional telehealth services could include provider and patient education, health information services, and even patient self-care. The use of medical-related mobile apps, video conferencing, and more would all fit under the telehealth category.

What are the Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine?

The biggest benefit, and really the purpose of telehealth, is to enable healthcare professionals to communicate and provide care without being in a face-to-face setting. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, telehealth has quickly become an important part of medical services and has expanded the ability of medical providers to provide medical care, diagnose patient symptoms, prescribe treatment options, conduct care referrals, advance their own education and collaborate with other medical professionals. This is particularly useful for providing quality medical care in remote areas that previously wouldn’t have been able to receive quality medical care. For those that live in more rural areas, telemedicine and telehealth have been an incredible benefit.

In recent years, many states have been encouraging providers to implement telemedicine services. Many health providers are adapting telemedicine technology to improve care for patients. With advances in communication and technology, many services that would have been previously impossible are now available to patients in remote locations. As more telemedicine systems are being deployed, providers can provide faster and more accurate and convenient services to their patients. The following describes some of the ways telemedicine technology is changing the way patients receive healthcare.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

One major benefit of the growth in telehealth services is the ability for providers and patients to work together through remote patient monitoring, or RPM. Because telehealth utilizes new and improving technologies to increase communications between providers and patients, physicians and practitioners now have the ability to provide more regular and personalized check-ins, instead of relying on in-person appointments. This is especially vital for patients who have ongoing or significant health concerns. For instance, a patient who suffers from diabetes or kidney issues is now able to provide consistent and regular updates to his doctors on important activities and vital signs, which can help to diagnose and treat emergent or changing conditions much more quickly.

For instance, such patients now have the ability to perform actions like:

• Using a mobile phone or computer to provide updates on diet, blood sugar levels, and other vital signs for continual monitoring
• Track medication schedules and ensure patients follow prescribed treatment plans, or manage “as needed” medication prescriptions
• Request medication refills or order other medical supplies as needed
• Receive education from physicians on their personal situation.
• Get reminders about regular treatment items, like scans, vaccines, physical therapy routines, and more.

To top it all off, remote patient monitoring reduces the need for patients to visit their care providers too frequently, which lowers the cost to them and frees the medical providers to continue to see other patients who need their services with the extra time.

Better Collaboration Between Medical Professionals

The benefits of telehealth don’t just apply to the relationship between medical providers and patients, but extend to the communication and collaboration between medical professionals. With advances in telecommunication systems that are HIPAA-compliant, doctors, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, and health educators all have an increased and improved opportunity to consult each other and find new solutions that would otherwise be inaccessible. This is particularly useful when a patient’s issues may span across multiple specialties. Historically, communication between specialists would often take days or weeks to take place. Meanwhile, patients continue to suffer with their symptoms or pain, and are often left to fend for themselves or be completely disabled as a result. With new ways to collaborate, medical providers can diagnose complicated issues and create personalized treatment plans more efficiently, which is greatly beneficial to patients in need.

Easier Management of Electronic Health Records

One of the primary areas in which providers are increasingly using telemedicine to improve their services is in the area of electronic health records (EHR). Electronic health records enable providers to collect, organize, maintain, and share medical information from multiple sources. As a result, EHR is easier to access and to update than it was years ago and can support the needs of many types of patients. The EHR can also be updated easily to make sure that providers can continue to offer the latest technology and practices to their patients.

Improvements in Research and New Treatment Discovery

The effects of telehealth extend beyond the direct treatment of patients by medical providers, and also help to make research and the discovery of new treatment options more efficient. Medical researchers can send testing results to other research teams around the world, making the sharing of information a much easier process. In addition, researchers no longer have to be in the same location to conduct quality research. While there is always a benefit to working in the same space, research teams can now consist of professionals and experts from around the world. In much the same way that businesses have embraced the idea of remote work, medical research can now be expanded to include a global team of medical experts who can conduct quality research and make faster discoveries of new treatment options to be created.

Roadblocks to Telehealth and Telemedicine

First, because telehealth and telemedicine utilize new and emerging technologies, not all medical practices are utilizing these services. As a result, not all patients and providers are able to take advantage of the myriad of benefits telehealth and telemedicine can provide. Many practices are utilizing health record technologies and internal systems that don’t currently support the proper telehealth requirements for HIPAA compliance, and it’s not uncommon for practice managers or owners to be overloaded and too busy to explore or implement telehealth solutions. Another roadblock to the growth of telehealth and telemedicine is that they require the use of newer technologies. While the biggest segment of patients consists of older individuals who may not have much experience with new technologies and are notoriously non-tech-savvy it can feel like a big mountain to climb to enable them to utilize these new systems. It can be a challenge to help some patients with simply using email, let alone to conduct a video conference with their medical provider or log details into a mobile app on their smartphone.

While telehealth and telemedicine provide new ways for patients to connect with their providers, there is no substitute for in-person patient care. Because of this, another major roadblock to the adoption of these technologies is a lack of trust. According to a study conducted by medical research company Medscape, 64% of patients are not sure that diagnoses provided through telemedicine are as accurate as in-person diagnoses, and 33% report that they have concerns about the privacy and security of such communications. This extends to insurance companies, as not all insurance providers have fully embraced covering care provided through telecommunication channels.

Take Advantage of Telehealth and Telemedicine with Kareo

Telehealth and Telemedicine can provide a major benefit to your practice, and allow for new opportunities to see more patients, provide improved and more personalized care, and generate a new revenue stream for your practice. Kareo Telehealth allows you to connect with patients anywhere, anytime. It’s simple, secure and streamlined—and fully reimbursed by private payers. With seamless integration to the Kareo EHR and practice management software, you can implement an efficient and effective telehealth solution. Learn more about Kareo Telehealth, and get started today!

About the Author

Cher Knebel is a Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Kareo and joined the company in 2019. She has been a content creator for more than two decades, specifically working...

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