As years go by, telehealth technology evolves with increasing pace. Just several decades ago, physicians and other health professionals only had access to the most basic telehealth technologies such as telephones and radios. The arrival of the Internet Age and the widespread use of technologies such as smartphones and wearable devices has completely changed the landscape of telehealth and telemedicine technology. Now, telehealth technology enables users to instantly share their health data or connection via voice or even video to health professionals no matter where they are. Also, the incredible pace of innovation and miniaturization enables patients to carry with them an increasing amount of sophisticated telehealth equipment that can measure more and more of patients vitals or scans of health data no matter where they are, all without the need for the presence of medical professionals.
Even many health care workers and health companies often debate what is the difference between Telehealth and Telemedicine, and they often used those terms interchangeably. This is not a surprise since both of these terms were introduced quite recently and the technology they are utilizing is advancing at such a rapid pace.
Most commonly, medical professionals use the term Telehealth as a singular term that describes:
Any form of telecommunication technology that can provide health services between health provider and a patient.
This can include things like health education of a patient or group of healthcare worker via video conference, providing a health diagnosis using internet communication apps, examining patient’s test results, hosting an online support group, performing regular health checkup and many others. It is important to mention that telehealth does not only encompass healthcare services but also technology-enabled public health programs and non-clinical health education.
Telemedicine is a sub-type of a telehealth with a clinical component, which enables the healthcare provider to use modern technology to provide healthcare to the patient. This includes many forms of establishing remote contact to the patient such as video conferencing, video visits, sharing patient’s medical information and medical records with other healthcare providers, or in some cases even conducting robotic surgery from a remote location.
The differences between telehealth and telemedicine are numerous, but both are relying on the same set of telecommunication technologies. The most important difference is that since telemedicine is often requiring the use of private patient health information and records, the communication technology and software need to be designed to be secure, encrypted and HIPAA compliant. Telehealth, on the other hand, is often used for sharing information with the public or for health education, which means that it does not to be as secure as telemedicine.
Telemedicine technology continues to evolve with each passing year, introducing new technologies that over time become more widely available, more capable and affordable. Some of the most commonly found telemedicine technologies available today are:
Some public spaces, health clinics, community centers or job sites may have an on-site telehealth kiosks that offer information from telehealth providers. They are usually equipped with a touch-based computer interface, internet connection, and have built-in a wide variety of medical monitoring devices (measurement of vital signs and others) that can provide basic healthcare services to anyone who uses it. These kiosks enable patients to effortlessly connect with the physicians, without the need to physically go to the health care clinics.
Modern smartphones can carry within them the incredible number of healthcare apps. For example, anyone with a modern mobile device or a smartphone can download health apps that can monitor their sleep patterns, track their weight, track their exercise regiments, get medication reminder notifications, contact their doctors directly via video chat, learn about illnesses and health conditions, get health care tips, stay connected with an online support group and many others. More sophisticated mobile healthcare apps can also do automatic tracking of users health data, providing regular tracking and sensor data updates directly to the healthcare provider.
One of the most reliable ways to contact healthcare provider is via telephone. This includes regular checkups, getting information about various health care services, setting up a date for a next physical medical checkup, consultation with other specialists on patient cases, getting information about medication requirements and side effects of drug use with pharmacists, and more. In some cases, doctors can even perform remote diagnosis of patients condition (tele-triage) using the telephone.
Web locations such as Mayo clinic, WebMD and Wikipedia have become over the years a place where anyone can get general and in-depth information about health conditions. These online encyclopedias of health knowledge can be accessed using any modern computing devices (home PCs, laptops, smartphones or tablets) that have access to the landline or wifi internet connection. The Internet is also the host of many other health services that can be used as a lookup of medical symptoms, support chat groups, public health courses, chats with medical professionals and much more.
Telehealth solutions received a sizeable boost after online video conferencing technology became widespread. Any internet connected computing device and a webcam are all that patients need to get a face-to-face visit with their healthcare provider completely remotely. In the case patient and healthcare provider (and also secondary healthcare providers that are brought in to give the second opinion) are sharing patients sensitive health records, telemedicine applications and communication methods need to be securely encrypted to prevent accidental public sharing of data. Telehealth is also focused on public education and quick sharing of important data with medical personnel and the general population. In such cases, the services for sharing of information need to be made to be as easy to use as possible and reliable. For example, urgent sharing of data with medical professionals about some new disease, or public appearances of doctors can be achieved with the use of popular video conferencing apps such as Skype or Google Hangouts. Most of the people who are having daily or weekly contact with telehealth or telemedicine video services do so via modern smartphone devices that are highly portable, internet connected and have built-in cameras.
Email still remains as one of the most popular and commonly used telehealth and telemedicine services. It enables an easy way of communication between patients and healthcare providers, and patients can use it for direct communication with doctors, getting informed about their health conditions, stay up to date with medical findings, get reminders about their health appointments and preventative care.
Since many modern health care providers have started utilizing services such as patient portals and electronic health records, this has enabled patients and healthcare providers can engage much easily in secure email correspondence via email messaging systems that can include discussing their medical conditions, lab results, treatment options and much more. Doctors can also use email to securely share patients data such as lab results, photos, and videos with other remote specialists so that they could get second diagnosis opinions, without the need for a patient to physically visit those specialists (who could be based at distant locations).