Telehealth and Telemedicine
The Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as 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. Technologies include videoconferencing, the Internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.
Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote health care 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.
What Are the Benefits of Telehealth?
The American Telemedicine Association reports that telehealth/telemedicine has been growing rapidly because it offers four fundamental benefits:
Improved Access – For over 40 years, telemedicine has been used to bring health care services to patients in distant locations. Not only does telemedicine improve access to patients, but it also allows providers and health facilities to expand their reach beyond their own offices. Given the provider shortages throughout the world – in both rural and urban areas – telemedicine has a unique capacity to increase service to millions of new patients.
Cost Efficiencies – Reducing or containing the cost of health care is one of the most important reasons for funding and adopting telehealth technologies. Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of health care and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays.
Improved Quality – Studies have consistently shown that the quality of health care services delivered via telemedicine are as good as those given in traditional in-person consultations. In some specialties, particularly in mental health and ICU care, telemedicine delivers a superior product, with greater outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Patient Demand – Consumers want telemedicine. The greatest impact of telemedicine is on patients, their families and their community. This technology reduces travel time and related stresses for the patient. Over the past 15 years, study after study has documented patient satisfaction and support for telemedical services.