You’ve probably seen and heard the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” used interchangeably these days, both online and in conversation. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a physician or other healthcare professional or Jane or John Doe. The line between these terms is blurring.
Nonetheless, there is a distinction.
Telemedicine is a form of telehealth, not the other way around
Scenario 1: At home with a sore throat, you connect with a physician by phone or web for a diagnosis and (possibly) a prescription.
Scenario 2: You’re in the hospital, where you are diagnosed by a remote physician via web connection. Supported by clinical staff at your bedside, the physician has access to examination equipment and your own medical record.
Which scenario is telehealth and which is telemedicine?
Technically, Scenario 1 is telehealth—a broad term describing any health services that are provided by telecommunications technology, quite often to consumers in their homes.
Scenario 2 is telemedicine—a more specific term that applies to the clinical application of remote technology. That is, it occurs in a clinical environment, most likely a hospital, with the support of other clinical staff, diagnostic equipment, and access to patient health records. Telemedicine is only one of many varieties of telehealth.
Even the ATA and WHO blur the lines
Though it notes the distinction between the two terms, the World Health Organization (WHO) uses the terms interchangeably. In its 2009 report titled “Telemedicine: Opportunities and Developments in Member States,” the WHO wrote: “Some distinguish telemedicine from telehealth with the former restricted to service delivery by physicians only, and the latter signifying services provided by health professionals in general, including nurses, pharmacists, and others.”
The American Telemedicine Association also considers telehealth and telemedicine to be interchangeable terms, while carefully pointing out the clinical environment where telemedicine is typically performed. “Telemedicine is the natural evolution of healthcare in the digital world,” the ATA states on its website. “ATA largely views telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable terms, encompassing a wide definition of remote healthcare, although telehealth may not always involve clinical care. Yet, regardless of how you refer to it, what is now indisputable is how telemedicine greatly improves the quality, equity and affordability of healthcare throughout the world.”
Confusion at the public policy level
The interchangeability of telemedicine and telehealth causes confusion in the realm of health policy. As the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) points out, definitions of telehealth differ among state and federal agencies. For example, California law defines telehealth as narrowly restricted to patient-centered care. Meanwhile, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth much more broadly, beyond patient-centered care to the classroom and the office:
“The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
As CCHP states: “These varying definitions influence the policies and regulations surrounding how telehealth is allowed to be used, and these policies vary as much across states as the definitions themselves.”
Where Eagle stands
What is Eagle Telemedicine’s perspective? We always opt for clarity, and will rarely use the terms telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably. Nonetheless, we live in a world where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important consideration for competitive companies; it is simply good business to make it easy for people to find us when doing a Google search. For that reason, we use the term “telehealth” occasionally in our online content so as not to be overlooked by people looking for a provider of telemedicine services who find it easier to key-in “telehealth” when doing a search.
So even though you may occasionally see the term “telehealth” in our online content, we are a telemedicine provider, and that is how we should be known in the marketplace. Be assured, Eagle Telemedicine won’t be changing its name anytime soon.