Although the words telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction. Telemedicine involves the clinical care of specific patients and an exchange of protected information. Therefore, it requires a special level of security. Some forms of telehealth, on the other hand, do not transmit patient specific medical information, so they don’t need to be as secure. Here is a look at a few telehealth technologies:
There are a host of websites, like WebMD and Mayo Clinic, that offer information on a wide range of healthcare topics. You can learn more about a particular condition, assess your risk factors, research potential treatments and more.
Health tracking mobile applications are almost ubiquitous these days. They let you measure your activity level, keep a record of your heart rate, track your sleep, and document your diet. These solutions help you better manage your own health and help you collect information that you can later share with your doctor.
Another way that telehealth is used to keep people engaged in their healthcare is text alerts and notifications. These types of applications let people sign up to get a text when they have a doctor’s appointment, need to refill a prescription, take a medication, update a vaccination, or many other types of preventative care.
As we mentioned before, telemedicine technologies are a subset of telehealth that must meet the strict requirements of the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for protecting confidential patient information. The most commonly used telemedicine technologies are:
This is what most people think of when they hear the word telemedicine. A purpose-built, secure application is used to connect patients and doctors no matter where they are. A patient can visit her doctor from home, for example, or a provider can consult with a specialist who is hundreds of miles away. Because of the need for security, consumer grade video conferencing applications like Skype and FaceTime are not appropriate for telemedicine, but the best telemedicine applications are as easy to use as these familiar apps.
The type of telemedicine known as store-and-forward is achieved through the use of secure email. Providers send records, images, test results, and other information back and forth as part of their effort to diagnose and treat patients.
Special telemedicine equipment has been designed to support remote patient monitoring. This is an approach that lets providers gather important information about patients over any length of time without the need for an in-person visit. Physicians can track things like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, activity level, blood sugar levels, and other key signs of health. This is a particularly valuable tool when treating people with chronic conditions, those who have recently been hospitalized, and the elderly.
Telehealth and telemedicine technologies were once a novel invention, but today they are fast becoming an integral part of the healthcare landscape. They will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of patients, providers and the healthcare system as a whole.