Telehealth vs. Telemedicine: Let’s Talk About It

Father carrying his daughter while walking outside

Telehealth vs. telemedicine: At first glance, the two terms are very similar. You may even see them used synonymously. However, there are important distinctions to discuss. A review of the literature points to a few key differences regarding the scope and focus of telehealth vs. telemedicine. 

Both modalities are used to extend the care continuum. Telehealth is a broader concept encompassing telemedicine, but the differences don’t end there. In this article, we will look at the similarities and differences between telehealth vs. telemedicine communication technologies, including a high-level overview of each. We’ll also explore how they differ in terms of user-centricity, services offered, technologies used, and their impact on health care delivery.

Telemedicine: What It Is and How It Is Used

Telemedicine is the treatment of patients by a licensed practitioner over a digital platform. Medical visits done through telecommunications technology allow for assessment, diagnosis, treatment plans, and referrals. The services supplied, as well as invoicing and compensation, may be restricted depending on the state in which the provider practices. To conduct e-health services, some states may require a waiver.

A telemedicine visit may consist of evaluating and managing chronic conditions and reviewing diagnostic tests such as labs, imaging results, and consultant reports. It may also entail prescribing medications. The United States has limits on the types of drugs a provider may prescribe and when. According to the FDA, a clinician can only issue digital prescriptions or e-scripts for a restricted drug after an in-person visit. For example, a provider may give an e-script for pain medication to a patient previously attended to in the emergency room or clinic if the patient's pain exacerbates.

Telemedicine can be used for acute illnesses and acute-phase injuries as well. Providers may also use telemedicine to request, receive, and offer billable consultations. A common example of this is when a provider at a remote or rural area consults with a provider at a larger facility regarding a potential transfer. 

In situations in which care is being conducted for long-distance patients and those who lack access to specialty care services, telemedicine is an excellent modality to extend the care continuum.

Some examples of telemedicine related to behavioral health are:

  • Telebehavioral medicine: The practice of behavioral medicine from a remote setting. Telebehavioral medicine is concerned with the advancement and integration of behavioral, psychological, and biological sciences from a remote setting. Specialized information and procedures important to the understanding of mental health, including psychosocial variables and social behavior, are provided by behavioral health professionals. The use of information, tools, and technology is aimed at prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation.
  • Telepsychiatry: Telepsychiatry, a subtype of telemedicine, can include the remote application of in-person procedures such as mental examinations, programming treatment (individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy), patient education, and pharmaceutical management.

How Telehealth Differs from Telemedicine

As previously established, telemedicine exists under the umbrella of telehealth. However, there are some major contrasts in how the two terms are used and perceived. In terms of user-centricity, telemedicine’s features are mostly provider-facing. Telemedicine is usually administered by a professional who is licensed to practice medicine. 

Telehealth, on the other hand, enables patients, former patients or alumni, family members, and caregivers to access care remotely. The term telehealth refers to the remote care provided by clinicians or health care professionals such as doctors, pharmacists, social workers, therapists, counselors, health care technicians, and nurses. From time to time, ancillary staff members and non-clinical service providers such as insurance companies or those responsible for scheduling, coding, billing, and other administrative duties, may use telehealth features to interact with patients. 

Some examples of telehealth within behavioral health include:

  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Employee onboarding and training
  • Administrative meeting
  • Health education
  • Counseling and mental health services
  • Health resources and coaching
  • Behavioral health follow-ups
  • Medication adherence, including drug screening
  • Group or family therapy
  • Utilization review

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine: Digital Tools and Technology 

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine: patient using a laptop

For the most part, telemedicine and telehealth technology are interchangeable. Both require access to digital tools and health information technologies (HIT) that enable remote care. Telehealth technologies include video conferencing software, integrated patient health records, HIPAA-compliant communication and messaging tools. Ideally, clinicians could access each of these features from a single interface. Such is the case with ContinuumCloud's EHR dashboard.

Access to Electronic Medical Records (EMR)

The interoperability of health information databases is key to delivering high-quality telemedicine and telehealth services. Healthcare providers need real-time access to the patient's electronic medical record — which is an electronic version of the patient’s medical chart. EMR data includes treatment notes from past office visits, vital signs, past medical history, and medication lists.

Integration with Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Clinicians providing remote clinical services also need information in the patient’s electronic health record. An EHR includes tools and information unavailable in the patient’s chart. EHRs keep track of patient-generated health data (PGHD), in-patient and primary care records, and public health information such as immunization records.

Interoperability helps ensure the meaningful use of electronic information. An interoperable and comprehensive EHR system like ContinuumCloud’s can make all the difference when it comes to providing behavioral health services in a remote setting. Patients often have complicated medical conditions. Our interoperable EHR solution keeps healthcare providers and behavioral health practitioners on the same page. It allows you to keep pharmacists, social workers, and case managers in the loop to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. 

Direct Channel Video Conferencing

Quality remote care begins with a reliable video conferencing system. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, a host of technology companies has entered the telecare space. It’s important to verify that a telehealth vendor's technology meets the unique conditions of behavioral health before signing up. 

Telehealth access is included in both the ContinuumCloud EHR and the CaredFor app. Our solutions, created expressly for behavioral health and human services, include click-to-meet technology incorporated directly into clinical notes for individuals and groups. Utilize desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones for video conferencing, screen sharing, and digital signature capture. Patients can request a video conference from the intuitive and engaging dashboard within the CaredFor mobile app.

HIPAA-Compliant Messaging

Video conferencing comes to mind when we think of telehealth, but text messaging and secure email can also be used. Standalone messaging apps designed for general use, may not meet HIPAA standards. Breaching HIPAA in this way could be extremely costly.

HIPAA-certification validates that ContinuumCloud's technology complies with all of the regulatory criteria established by the federal government for protected health information, or PHI. HIPAA-compliance extends protection to include any data about a person's health, treatment, and means of payment for their care.

With ContinuumCloud’s comprehensive EHR and the CaredFor app you no longer need to worry about violating HIPAA, as our platform features multiple opportunities for HIPAA-compliant messaging.

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine: Need Help Deciding?

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine: patient having a video call using a laptop

Telehealth vs. telemedicine is a reasonably nuanced debate. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications (video and text) technology to facilitate the delivery of medical, diagnostic, and treatment-related services, often by doctors and advanced practitioners. It may involve tests and remote patient monitoring following a treatment or therapy. Telemedicine and telehealth use digital tools like video conferencing to give patients access to experts who are not in the same location. 

Telehealth is comparable to telemedicine, but it extends well beyond doctor-patient interaction to cover a broader range of remote healthcare and behavioral health services. It frequently includes services offered by therapists, nurses, pharmacists, and social workers, who can assist with patient health education, social support, medication adherence, and troubleshooting concerns for patients and their caregivers.

We know there are many telehealth providers to choose from. We want to make your choice as easy as possible. ContinuumCloud offers practice management, clinical enablement, and patient engagement technology designed to serve the behavioral health and human services industry. To learn more about our comprehensive range of health IT solutions, connect with us today

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