The intersection of medicine and technology can be a confusing place. Policy makers, vendors and advocacy groups often use imprecise language or throw out technical terms inconsistently. I’m sure we’re guilty of this from time to time. Although the terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction between the two.
The term telehealth includes a broad range of technologies and services to provide patient care and improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole. Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services. According to the World Health Organization, telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion and public health functions.”
Telehealth is a subset of E-Health, which includes the delivery of health information, for health professionals and health consumers, education and training of health workers and health systems management through the internet and telecommunications.
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that refers solely to the provision of health care services and education over a distance, through the use of telecommunications technology. Telemedicine involves the use of electronic communications and software to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology is frequently used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and a host of other clinical services that can be provided remotely via secure video and audio connections.
Just to throw another term into the mix, we should note that the WHO also uses the term “telematics.” According to them, “Telematics for health is a composite term for both telemedicine and telehealth, or any health-related activities carried out over distance by means of information communication technologies.”
In short, all telemedicine is telehealth, but not all telehealth is telemedicine. Both are part of the larger effort to expand access to care, make health management easier for patients and improve the efficiency of the healthcare delivery network. Chiron Health specializes in software designed to support telemedicine and ensure provider reimbursement.