Telemedicine and Telehealth: What is the difference?

Telemedicine and Telehealth have been buzz words in the health community and as of recently are helping many during covid, and they seem to be used nearly interchangeably.

But, what exactly do these two terms mean, and how are doctors and health care providers putting these terms into play?

Read on to gain a clear understanding of the difference between Telehealth and Telemedicine, and figure out how they can help you on your journey to better and more efficient healthcare.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a subset of Telehealth, and according to the Federation of State Medical Boards, its exact definition is “the practice of medicine using electronic communication, information technology, or other means between a physician in one location, and a patient in another location, with or without an intervening health care provider.”

Basically, this means that Telemedicine is your classic one-on-one patient and doctor office visit, just moved online using the appropriate software.

Examples of Telemedicine

  • You have a minor but itchy rash on your forearm, so you search online for dermatology telemedicine clinics and within minutes you are on a video chat with a doctor or submitting a photo of the rash to a physician to look over. Shortly after the doctor submits a prescription for an appropriate cream to the pharmacy you prefer to use, and you are able to pick up the prescription and start treating the rash within hours.
  • You have noticed significantly thinning hair on your temples and think a bald spot may be creeping up in the back. You find an online telemedicine clinic that specializes in hair loss prescriptions for men and women. You submit a photo of all sides of your head, and answer some questions about your hair loss concerns. Within 24 hours, the telemedicine doctors review your information and pictures and select an appropriate prescription hair loss treatment for you. You pay for the prescription online and it shows up at your front door discreetly packaged 2 days later.
  • You wake up with what you think could be the flu, and you need it cleared up ASAP since you have an important function at the end of the week. You hate venturing out when you think you may be contagious, since you don’t want to get anyone else sick, so you find a primary care telehealth clinic that can review your symptoms. The primary care telehealth doctor has you take your own temperature, asks a few questions, and concludes that you likely have the flu. The doctor submits a prescription for medication that may shorten the duration of the flu to your nearest pharmacy, and your partner is able to pick up the prescription for you to start that same day.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is the broader term of the two, and actually includes telemedicine. The official definition of Telehealth is “The use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

So, an online doctors appointment is telehealth, but so is an online health conference for nurses, or a business that works with local doctors to help them get set up for online telemedicine consultations.

Examples of Telehealth

  • A pharmacist needs to have 10 live hours of continuing education training in order to renew their license. However, they have a tight schedule and are unable to travel to a local in-person conference to get the hours they need. They look online and find a platform where they can log in after work for lots of scheduled classes where they can watch an instructor in real time, participate in the class, and take a quiz afterward to get the live credits.
  • A health technology company develops a HIPAA-compliant software that can quickly and easily help independent doctor’s offices adapt their system into being able to conduct distance telemedicine consults with patients who need a follow-up appointment, or can’t make it into the office. This technology company travels to the doctor’s office and gets everything set up as well as conducts training for all staff members involved.
  • You are a recently diagnosed diabetic, and you are struggling with adjusting your diet and knowing exactly what you should be eating. You look online and find a resource where you can have an online meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes to help you learn what type of a diet will help you better manage your diabetes. The website also provides a login where you can record your diet, exercise, and glucose levels to later be reviewed by the dietitian and provide continuing advice and education.

Why both are necessary and work together

Telehealth includes the infrastructure that allows Telemedicine to work.

Telehealth can include the online administration, technology development, and educational resources, as well as the online Telemedicine visit.

Even though Telemedicine is the structure that most people think of when thinking about online health resources, both are necessary for the online healthcare system to function seamlessly.

Bottom Line:

  • Telemedicine is the distanced online meeting or communication between a doctor and a patient.
  • Telehealth includes Telemedicine, but is broader and also includes online health education for healthcare providers and patients, or public health administration.
  • These aspects of getting healthcare online are slightly different, but both are necessary for the system to work properly.
  • Telehealth and Telemedicine are great new horizons for healthcare to make the system more efficient, cost effective, and convenient for both the patient and the providers.