Source: American Telemedicine Association (ATA)
Frequently Asked Questions
In brief, telemedicine is the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a wide array of clinical services using internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media. ATA has a more comprehensive explanation, complete with examples, here.
While some have parsed out unique definitions for each word, ATA treats “telemedicine” and “telehealth” as synonyms and uses the terms interchangeably. In both cases, we are referring to the use of remote health care technology to deliver clinical services.
Telemedicine is a significant and rapidly growing component of health care in the United States. There are currently about 200 telemedicine networks, with 3,500 service sites in the US. Nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors and in 2011, the Veterans Health Administration delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine. Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Around the world, millions of patients use telemedicine to monitor their vital signs, remain healthy and out of hospitals and emergency rooms. Consumers and physicians download health and wellness applications for use on their cell phones.
Yes. Guided by technical standards and clinical practice guidelines, and backed by decades of research and demonstrations, telemedicine is a safe and cost-effective way to extend the delivery of health care. ATA has produced a series of standards, guidelines and best practices for healthcare providers to ensure that they are using telemedicine responsibly.
mHealth, also known as mobile health, is a form of telemedicine using wireless devices and cell phone technologies. It is useful to think of mHealth as a tool–a medium–through which telemedicine can be practiced. mHealth is a particularly powerful development because it delivers clinical care through consumer-grade hardware and allows for greater patient and provider mobility. ATA has a Special Interest Group dedicated to the practice and development of mHealth.
HIT is the generation and transmission of digital health data, often through an electronic health record. Generally, HIT is used for administrative functions (keeping track of patient’s health history, sharing information between providers, etc.) while telemedicine is the delivery of an actual clinical service. HIT can facilitate telemedicine but it is not a requirement for delivering remote health care.
Patients should ask their doctor, hospital or healthcare provider about telemedicine services that are already available. In many cases, the provider may have an existing home health monitoring program or other telemedicine services. There are also numerous private companies that sell basic telehealth services, including 24/7 access to a health professional, remote monitoring, medication adherence and online wellness apps.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions at ATA. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult to answer. Estimates on the market size for telemedicine vary widely, depending on each analyst’s precise definition of telemedicine. While they can’t agree on a single number, one area where all research firms concur is that the telemedicine market is growing rapidly.
30 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services. Many other insurers cover at least some telehealth service–and many more have expressed interest in expanding their telehealth coverage. To find out if your insurance company covers telehealth services, please contact your benefits manager.