As a healthcare professional, you are probably used to using words that most people don’t understand. If you are exploring the possibilities that telemedicine brings to your practice, you may find that the shoe is on the other foot. You don’t need to become a computer scientist to understand material on telemedicine or to leverage it for your practice, but it does help to know a few of the terms you will hear. Here are 10 that we think you’ll be glad you know.
Telehealth is a very broad term that can refer to remote clinical and non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education. According to the World Health Organization, telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion, and public health functions.”
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that refers only to the provision of clinical healthcare services and education remotely, through the use of telecommunications technology. 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. It is important to know that the terms telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably despite the fact that telehealth is a broader concept.
Telemonitoring is the use of audio, video, and other telecommunications and electronic information sharing technologies to monitor the health status of a patient from a distance. Telemonitoring can be used to track a patient’s heart rate or blood sugar levels, for example.
Store-and-Forward or Asynchronous Communication
Store-and-Forward (also known as Asynchronous Communication) is a two-way communication in which there can be a time delay between when a message is sent, when it is received, and when a response is communicated. The example you are probably most familiar with is email. In telehealth, store-and-forward might be used to send test results to a specialist for review. The term is important because it is one type of telemedicine that is generally not eligible for reimbursement.
Real-time communication is the opposite of store-and-forward. It involves “the capture, processing, and presentation of data at the time the data is originated.” In other words, the participants interact as if they were in the same room. A telephone call or live video conference involves real-time communication.
API (Application Programming Interface)
An API is a bit of software that sets the rules for two applications to send data back and forth. For example, if you see the status of your package sent via FedEx on Amazon’s screen for tracking orders, this is made possible by an API. APIs are used in telehealth to connect telemedicine technology to a practice’s EHR, online scheduling application, or practice management system to eliminate the need for duplicate data entry.
SaaS (Software as a Service)
SaaS is a method of delivering software to customers in which the software resides on hardware controlled by the vendor. Users access it via a web browser or mobile application. This modern form of software delivery puts the onus of maintenance on the vendor, rather than the customer and reduces the time and cost it takes to get started. Software delivered this way is often sold on a subscription basis. You may hear this referred to as cloud-based software.
Audio-teleconferencing is simply a voice conversation between two or more people at separate locations. You know … a phone call. Audio only teleconferencing is usually not sufficient to receive reimbursement as a telehealth visit. Most payers require a video component as well.
Encryption is a system of encoding data on a web page or email where the information can only be retrieved and decoded by the person or computer system authorized to access it. The most secure telemedicine platforms use encryption to prevent unauthorized access to video transmissions and other data.
We hope these quick explanations will help you make sense out of the next thing you read about the subject of telemedicine. If there are any more terms that are a little murky, just let us know.