In the ever-changing field of healthcare technology, it can be a challenge to keep up with all the terminology — mHealth, mobile medical devices, telehealth … what are we actually talking about here?
The terms telehealth and telemedicine can be confusing. After all, telemedicine has been around for decades. What’s all this buzz around these new telemedicine solutions? And are telehealth and telemedicine really two different things?
In truth, much of the confusion around the terms telehealth and telemedicine comes from the different ways the industry uses them. As such a quickly developing field, even most experts within the healthcare tech arena haven’t quite formed a consensus on the preferred terminology.
Generally though, both telehealth and telemedicine refer to the practice of using telecommunications and digital technology for health-related issues. However, you can think of telehealth as the broader umbrella term encompassing any use of those technologies for health purposes. For example, that could apply to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) program for sending out mass alerts when there’s a public health crisis. Or it could apply to a medical school's system to remotely educate students.
While the image that comes to mind for most people when they hear telehealth is a doctor treating a patient online over video chat, telehealth can describe many other uses of technology for health-related purposes.
Also under the telehealth umbrella are other terms such as mobile health, which describes mobile device apps that help patients track fitness, manage medications, submit medical data and more. Mobile medical devices that remotely transmit medical data over phone lines or via internet also fall under that category.
While it’s true that the field of telehealth has been around for awhile, the advent of the internet age, widespread smartphone use, and the app explosion has drastically expanded the various forms telehealth can now take. Now almost everyone with a smartphone likely participates in telehealth with a simple fitness tracker app.
In contrast, telemedicine usually refers to a specific niche within telehealth. Telemedicine specifically describes the practice of using telecommunications or digital technologies to provide direct medical care. Usually, that involves a healthcare provider consulting virtually with a patient or another provider about a medical case, providing a diagnosis, or recommending treatment.
So while both terms, telehealth and telemedicine, could correctly be used to refer to that innovative new medical videochat app you’re using, it’s technically best to call it a telemedicine app.
Either way, you’ll see these two terms used interchangeably all the time (our team often does too) since they’re so closely related. But knowing this distinction can be a good first step to understanding the growing digital health field.