What is the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine?

Telehealth, telemedicine – they’re both the same, right? Not exactly. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct things. So, what exactly is the difference between telehealth vs. telemedicine?

Telehealth vs Telemedicine: What’s the Difference?

The difference between telemedicine and telehealth is subtle but important. To explain the difference, let’s use a pie analogy. Telehealth is the entire pie, while telemedicine is just the filling.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth Definition: The administration of healthcare remotely using telecommunications technology.

Telehealth is a broad term that refers to a wide range of services and technologies. Essentially, it encompasses virtually all health-related services that use telecommunications technology. Telehealth includes not only clinical services, but also remote provider training, continuing education, meetings and more.

Examples of telehealth include:

  • Remote monitoring of a patient’s vital signs, blood pressure or ECG
  • Health education
  • Remote diagnosis or consultation (i.e. telemedicine)

According to the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), telehealth has four modalities:

  • Live Video: A real-time, two-way interaction between the patient and doctor/caregiver/provider using video technology.
  • Store-and-Forward: The transmission of patients’ health histories to health professionals through a secure electronic communication system for the purpose of evaluation or providing a service. For example, a specialist may look at your medical history and current symptoms to formulate a diagnosis or provide treatment. These interactions are not done in real-time and typically involve using secure communication tools.
  • Mobile Health: Individual and public health education and service using mobile technology (smartphones, tablets, etc.). Examples include text message reminders to stay active and phone alerts regarding disease outbreaks.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring: The transmission of a patient’s health and medical data to a provider using electronic communication technologies in a different location. For example, a patient’s vitals may be taken in a care facility, and that information may be transmitted to a doctor in a nearby hospital.

As you can see, telehealth is far-reaching. Along with remote clinical services, it includes the transmission of medical information, public health education and the monitoring of patients remotely.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine Definition: Remote diagnosis and treatment using telecommunications technology.

Telemedicine is a subset of the broad telehealth services discussed earlier. It refers to a much narrower range of services and is limited to remote clinical services.

Examples of telemedicine include:

  • Doctor-patient consultations (virtual visits with your doctor)
  • Diagnosis and evaluations
  • Video consultations with doctors and specialists

Essentially, a telemedicine doctor provides medical care remotely using telecommunications technology. Video chat sessions are one way to accomplish this, but telemedicine can also be accomplished over the phone or even through email and text messages.

Here’s an example:

  • A patient is bit by a spider and concerned about their symptoms.
  • They take photos of the bite and upload them to a telemedicine platform.
  • A licensed physician evaluates the photo and calls the patient to discuss the diagnosis and treatment options.
  • The doctor calls in a prescription to a local pharmacy, and the patient picks it up.

Telemedicine is a Piece of the Telehealth Puzzle

Although some major health organizations use the terms telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably, the two are distinctly different. Telehealth is a broad range of remote medical services and education using telecommunications technology. Telemedicine refers only to remote clinical services. While different, the two work together to push healthcare into the digital and Internet-connected age.