The term “telehealth” is ubiquitous in healthcare. Generally, “telehealth” is a simple concept that means the capability of delivering health treatment, health information, or other health services through some form of telecommunications. The actual product delivered to patients can range widely, but usually include provider-to-patient education, web-based or telecommunications-provided medical care, remote monitoring of a patient’s condition or a combination of these.
Telehealth technologies include live video conferencing, mobile health apps, remote patient monitoring devices, and electronic exchange of health information from a patient to a medical provider.
Technologies that support the exchange of health information include video conferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging devices, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.
Telemedicine is a term that refers specifically to the provision of care to the patient via remote clinical services. Alternatively, telehealth refers to remote non-clinical services that can include provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, as well as the provision of clinical services by caregivers to patients.
The Health Resources Services Administration says that telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.
Telemedicine represents the transfer and exchange of medical information between different sites. According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine allows for the transmission of still images between patient and provider; patient consultations with a caregiver through video conferencing; remote monitoring of vital signs; continuing medical education; and other applications.
Differences between “telehealth” and “telemedicine” are slight. Both terms are often used interchangeably just as “electronic health records” and “electronic medical records” are used. The concept of telehealth generally encompasses a more diverse range of healthcare offerings and services than telemedicine, though.
“Telehealth” is the more commonly used term by healthcare insiders, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy. Telehealth describes a broader range of diagnosis, management, and patient education than telemedicine and is used predominantly in the following areas:
Telehealth technology helps providers diagnose and treat many non-emergency conditions, across many sectors, including primary care, and mental and behavioral health. While telemedicine and virtual care are not necessarily intended to replace a primary care physician or another caregiver, telehealth technology can lead to quicker care and can fill gaps in care coverage, especially in rural or underserved areas.
A partial list of medical symptoms treated with telehealth include:
The following is a partial list of behavioral health symptoms or conditions treated through telehealth:
The primary hurdle for the expansion of telehealth is reimbursement levels for care provided. Many healthcare organizations say that limits on reimbursement constrict their ability to expand telehealth services for patients. Medicare and Medicaid offer different degrees of flexibility, while private payers also represent varying levels of funding.
Medicare only pays if the originating site (service location of the patient) is either in a non-Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), limiting the types of providers and facilities that can provide telehealth services.
Medicaid systems in 48 states (as of this writing) reimburses telehealthcare if it’s provided via live video systems while 19 state Medicaid programs will pay for RPM. Twelve state programs finance store-and-forward telehealth and seven states allow payment for all three telehealth categories. Rules governing payment through state Medicaid programs vary considerably, however.
For example, care through telehealth must satisfy federal requirements of efficiency, economy, and quality of care; however, states can offer flexibility to create innovative payment methodologies for services that incorporate telemedicine technology.
States may reimburse a physician or other licensed practitioner at the distant site and refund a facility fee to the originating site. States also can reimburse any additional costs, including technical support, transmission charges and equipment, and add-on costs included in the fee-for-service rates or separately reimbursed as an administrative cost by the state.
Also, there is no federal mandate requiring private payers to reimburse for telehealth services. Some states have or are creating parity laws, which compel payers to cover the same types of services provided through telehealth as that provided face-to-face. They also require payers to reimburse telehealth services at the same payment rate as in-clinic services.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the goals of telehealth are simple: Make healthcare available to individuals living in rural or isolated communities. Telehealth make services more readily available or convenient for people with limited mobility, time, or transportation options; provides access to medical specialists, and can improve communication and coordination of care among members of a healthcare team and a patient. Finally, telehealth offers support for care self-management in certain circumstances.
Telehealth use continues to expand rapidly as technologies for providing care improve and as reimbursements for the care provided increases. Telehealth is becoming integrated into healthcare quickly. Telehealth offers patients and caregivers many benefits, including reduced costs; better access to caregivers in underserved areas; better quality and continuity of care; and faster and more convenient treatment that reduces work absences and travel times for patients.
In rural areas, using telehealth to connect rural providers and their remote patients to services means patients receive care in their communities and avoid long travel times.
Telehealth also reduces physician shortages in underserved areas. For example, telehealth can bring specialists to patients in areas where there are no specialists for certain conditions, limiting travel for all parties.
Additionally, telehealth can promote complete care for patients. For example, telehealth can encourage and improve patient-provider communications; patient self-management with provider feedback; health literacy; medication management; and changes in health and lifestyle behavior.
Quality communication with the patient is critical, which is at the heart of telehealth. At TigerConnect, we understand patients are at their most vulnerable leading up to, during, and after a clinical event and that they have lots of questions. But, access to their doctor can be limited, especially pre- and post-appointment.
TigerTouch approaches patient communication innovatively by pushing provider-initiated care information via secure text message to the patient’s preferred device. We open conversations between healthcare provider and patient outside the confines of physical location and supports telehealth initiatives and telehealth-provided care. Additionally, with TigerTouch, there are no portals or logins required, which improves care and increases communication between provider and patient.
See how TigerConnect helps 6,000+ healthcare teams collaborate seamlessly across the hall or across the health system.
TigerConnect is healthcare’s most widely adopted communication platform – uniquely modernizing care collaboration among doctors, nurses, patients, and care teams. TigerConnect is the only solution that combines a consumer-like user experience for text, video, and voice communication with serious security, privacy, and clinical workflow requirements that today’s healthcare organizations demand. TigerConnect accelerates productivity, reduces costs, and improves patient outcomes.
Trusted by more than 6,000 healthcare organizations, TigerConnect maintains 99.99% verifiable uptime and processes more than 10 million messages each day. To learn more about TigerConnect visit www.tigerconnect.com.