Is There a Difference between Telemedicine and Telehealth?
While telemedicine is the older of the two phrases, telehealth is rapidly gaining acceptance, in large part because of the evolution of the healthcare landscape.
Today’s healthcare ecosystem is filled with references to and examples of telemedicine and telehealth – in some cases, the two terms are used interchangeably. Whether they mean the same thing is a topic of considerable debate.
In general terms, telemedicine is considered the clinical application of technology, while telehealth encompasses a broader, consumer-facing approach – “a collection of means or methods, not a specific clinical service, to enhance care delivery and education,” according to the federal network of telehealth resource centers.
“While ‘telemedicine’ has been more commonly used in the past, ‘telehealth’ is a more universal term for the current broad array of applications in the field,” the TRC network states in its online resource guide. “Its use crosses most health service disciplines, including dentistry, counseling, physical therapy and home health, and many other domains. Further, telehealth practice has expanded beyond traditional diagnostic and monitoring activities to include consumer and professional education. Note that while a connection exists between health information technology (HIT), health information exchange (HIE) and telehealth, neither HIE nor HIT are considered to be telehealth.”
ORIGINS OF TELEMEDICINE
A landmark 2010 report by the World Health Organization found that telemedicine – literally meaning “healing from a distance” — can be traced back to the mid-1800s, was first featured in published accounts early on in the 20th Century, and adopted its modern form in the late 1960s and early 1970s, primarily through the military and space industries. Owing to the fact that much of the technology encompassed in today’s telemedicine platform wasn’t around back then, and noting a 2007 study that found 104 different peer-reviewed definitions for the word, the WHO settled on its own broad-based definition:
“The delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
“Some distinguish telemedicine from telehealth with the former restricted to service delivery by physicians only, and the latter signifying services provided by health professionals in general, including nurses, pharmacists, and others. However, for the purpose of this report, telemedicine and telehealth are synonymous and used interchangeably.”