What’s the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine?

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Updated: June 1, 2020


telehealth and telemedicine

Image Credit: Pexels / Andrea Piacquadio

Telehealth is a term that encompasses all types of technological interventions and services that improve patient care and the healthcare experience in general. Telehealth includes, for example, the digital platform that allows a radiologist to remotely look at an x-ray or for a specialist across the state to check a digital medical chart for consultation purposes. Telehealth also technically includes virtual training for medical professionals.

Telemedicine, on the other hand, is not quite as broad of a definition as telehealth. Instead, telemedicine is using technology to provide care to a patient from a distance. Telemedicine, therefore, is a subset of telehealth. Examples of telemedicine can include a video conference with a physician to check sutures after surgery or having a follow-up visit to talk about a new medication with your specialist.

In all cases of telehealth and telemedicine, information and contact are provided via secure platforms designed to keep information private and confidential. Further, HIPAA guidelines are followed during all telehealth and telemedicine experiences.

Seniors, Telehealth, and Telemedicine

As with other technological interventions, seniors tend to use telehealth and telemedicine less frequently than their younger peers. However, seniors are not resisting the trend entirely. New research reports that at least 50% of older adults are willing to try telehealth interventions. However, most seniors willing to use telehealth would use it for follow-up appointments or review medications, as opposed to having check-ups or other experiences digitally. They also report that reimbursement questions or confusion can be a barrier to further exploring telehealth and telemedicine opportunities within their preferred health system.

Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine for Seniors

telehealth and telemedicine

Physicians and specialists can coordinate care more efficiently using telehealth platforms. Image Credit: Pexels / cottonbro

Seniors could certainly benefit from telehealth and telemedicine opportunities. For example, a digital office visit for an urgent need could decrease an emergency room visit later. Seniors are notorious for waiting too long to address a chronic or new condition, which often makes them end up in the emergency room far more than their younger peers. 

But telehealth and telemedicine can offer even more benefits for older adults that could enhance their wellness:

  • Less chance of infection or exposure to germs in crowded physician offices or hospitals
  • Fewer unnecessary trips to the doctor’s office mean a decreased need for finding transportation to and from the hospital
  • Patients in rural communities can interact with specialists hours away without having to find transportation
  • Chronic pain or condition management becomes easier
  • Quick check-ins to talk about medication side effects or new issues are easier
  • Ability to use personal health monitoring devices to monitor potential or recurring problems
  • Digital support groups can provide socialization and camaraderie without needing to leave the home

Potential Barriers to Telehealth and Telemedicine for Seniors

While telehealth and telemedicine opportunities could increase the quality of care for older adults in the future, there are still some significant drawbacks that pose a challenge. These obstacles can include:

  • Worries about confidentiality or privacy
  • Worries about reimbursement or staying within a preferred provider network of choice
  • Unfamiliarity with technology, including connecting to WiFi, using apps, etc.

Fortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed leaders and policymakers across the globe to begin addressing these obstacles head-on. Reimbursement guidelines for telehealth and telemedicine services have expanded, and some medical systems are even offering a discounted co-pay for telehealth appointments in order to encourage patients to try the services out. Further, seniors are becoming more and more confident with technology, with nearly half using an app for pharmacy services. 

Most interestingly, seniors are also a population that is already most likely to be comfortable wearing medical devices at home. This presents a unique opportunity to use personal health monitoring devices more frequently at home after a hospital discharge or procedure, giving remote medical professionals the opportunity to catch potential setbacks before they happen.

Examples of Telehealth and Telemedicine Senior Services

While telehealth and telemedicine services do look different around the globe and around the country, these are just a few interventions that could be available in your area:

  • Physician check-ups or follow-ups using video chats
  • Wearable devices with monitored real-time results for blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and oxygen saturation
  • Virtual support groups
  • Virtual family or in-home caregiver support
  • Medication review or changes
  • Sending a photo to a physician or specialist for review and follow up (for example, sutures after surgery, or a new rash)

Telehealth and telemedicine offer seniors new ways to receive the best care possible, in a timely and efficient manner. Remote services and monitoring give older adults the opportunity to practice preventative visits as well as to check-in on any concerns before a crisis occurs. It is definitely worth chatting with your physician in order to see what options are available for you or your loved one.