Nail Down Telehealth & Telemedicine Basics

Posted on 22 Feb, 2018 |comments_icon 0|By Elizabeth

The 21st Century Cures Act, passed in 2016, opened the door for increasing access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. Two years have since passed. Where is your practice in terms of virtual service offerings?

Advancements in technology have improved healthcare in ways you may not have imagined. Telemedicine and telehealth allow you, as a provider, to virtually interact with your patients in a way that improves the quality and delivery of care you furnish, especially for those patients who are unable to come into your office. The convenience and instant feedback your patients receive from telemedicine visits are among the driving factors behind this rapidly growing branch of medicine.

Imagine the effects of routine in-home monitoring to follow up with medication regimen compliance, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels. Now you can increase your capacity to improve patient outcomes, as well as the number of patients you’re able to treat.

What’s the difference between “telemedicine” and “telehealth”? You may hear these terms used interchangeably, as they are broadly defined as using technology to deliver healthcare from a distance. Telemedicine and telehealth have become valuable tools for improving your patient’s health thanks to advances in several areas including communications, computer science, informatics, and medical technologies.

“Telemedicine” more specifically means seeking to improve a patient’s health by permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication between the patient and the physician who is at a distant site. This interactive method of electronic communication includes, at a minimum, audio and video equipment, and is a cost-effective alternative to in-person medical care.

The term “telehealth” (also called “telemonitoring” or “e-health”) refers to the use of telecommunications and information technology for healthcare, especially for providers to access a patient’s clinical health assessment, diagnosis, interventions, consultation, and supervision information. This includes the electronic transmission of data to providers by devices worn by patients. It also involves nonclinical services, such as administrative conferences, provider training, and professional health-related education across a distance. Telehealth may be as simple as two doctors talking on the phone about a patient’s care or attending a general healthcare system management meeting, or as complex as the use of robotic technology to perform surgery from a remote site.

A recent news release from the AMA regarding telemedicine states: “Telehealth and telemedicine are another stage in the ongoing evolution of new models for the delivery of care and patient-physician interactions,” says AMA Board Member Jack Resneck, MD. “The new AMA ethical guidance notes that while new technologies and new models of care will continue to emerge, physicians’ fundamental ethical responsibilities do not change.”

Master the Fundamentals of Telemedicine and Telehealth Services

Did you know that telemedicine covers more than just the virtual consultation that most people think of when they hear “telehealth?”

Let’s break down telehealth services into four distinct areas:

  1. Real-time online visits: Involves the patient and his or her primary care physician or other healthcare professional interacting via video-conferencing or other real-time telehealth technology
  2. Recorded and saved interactions: Transmission and retrieval of medical or health information (e.g., data, image, sound, video), such as lab results, prescription orders, or an X-ray, from one provider to another for a consultation or interpretation
  3. Mobile reminders and monitoring: Transmit text messages or email reminders and updates from providers and pharmacies to aide with managing the patient’s health; it can also involve the patient providing data, such as a voice recording, or video to providers, to remotely monitor their health status
  4. Long-term observation via telehealth tools: Medical devices in the patient’s home that capture data (e.g., weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, or glucose level) and then transmit the information to a provider via the Internet

What technology delivers telehealth services? Let’s look at basic descriptions of telemedicine and telehealth technological connections providers use to deliver these services:

  1. Synchronous telehealth: Refers to the real-time virtual delivery of telemedicine using audio and video technologies to perform the visit.
  2. Store-and-Forward (SFT) data collection: A telecommunications tool that allows the physician to share data and the recorded visit with other providers, usually a specialist, who may be needed to help diagnose the patient. This could include providing a second opinion on a set of images to diagnosis a disease.

Important: Asynchronous SFT technology is only permissible for Medicare in federal telemedicine demonstration programs in Alaska and/or Hawaii.

  1. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM): Monitoring patients with chronic conditions so that the provider checks in with the patient periodically and remotely observes changes in his health using monitoring equipment.
  2. Mobile Health (mHealth) : Smartphone apps designed to foster health and well-being, ranging from programs which send targeted text messages aimed at encouraging healthy behaviors, to alerts about disease outbreaks, to programs or apps that remind patients to adhere to specific care regimens; smartphones may use cameras, microphones, or other sensors or transducers to capture vital signs for input to apps and bridging into RPM.

Learn More

Don’t lose out on revenue from this widely growing field of services. Get up to speed on telemedicine with TCI’s Telemedicine & Telehealth Handbook for Medical Practices 2018.



Elizabeth works on an array of projects at TCI, researching and writing about modern reimbursement challenges. Since joining TCI in 2017, she has also covered the nuts and bolts of cybersecurity, compliance with federal laws, and how to tap into the advantages of telehealth services.

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