What is Telehealth?

Telehealth involves delivering healthcare services over the internet using various telecommunications methods, such as live video conferencing, mobile health apps, save-and-forward electronic transmission, and remote patient monitoring (RPM).

It is rapidly expanding and has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery for millions of people. Telehealth encompasses a wide range of digital healthcare activities and services, including medical care, health information services, and provider and patient education.

Although telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes used interchangeably, telehealth now encompasses a broader range of digital healthcare activities and services. Telemedicine specifically refers to the application of technology and telecommunication networks to provide healthcare to patients who are geographically distant from their doctors. Telehealth includes remote clinical treatment as well as healthcare education, wearable devices for vital sign monitoring, and provider-to-provider remote communication.

Telehomecare, also known as home telehealth or home-based eHealth, refers to the application of telemedicine and/or telehealth in the home setting. A telehomecare visit involves two-way interactive audiovisual communication between a healthcare provider and a patient at home, which may include physical examinations and vital sign measurements.

Various telehealth technologies are utilized, including mobile health (mHealth) apps, remote patient monitoring (RPM), video and audio technology, digital photography, and store-and-forward technologies. These technologies enable patients to track their health, set reminders, communicate with healthcare providers, and transmit health data electronically.

Telehealth aims to improve healthcare access, convenience, and cost-effectiveness, extend beyond acute diseases to include episodic and chronic conditions, and expand from hospitals and clinics to home and mobile devices. It has the potential to enhance healthcare delivery in terms of accessibility, effectiveness, affordability, safety, and equity.

However, limitations such as reimbursement issues and the need for physical examinations and diagnostics in some cases hinder its widespread adoption. Clinician training should address these limitations and provide alternative strategies for gathering information when necessary.

Looking ahead, telehealth offers significant opportunities to improve healthcare delivery processes and outcomes. Rigorous program evaluations and data-driven reimbursement and policy changes can help maximize its benefits and overcome barriers to its implementation.