As the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide begin to take shape, the healthcare industry in the United States has already shifted to meet rising needs, specifically in the form of telehealth. What was initially an industry hurdle for payers, patients, and providers has now become a new cornerstone to health care during and post-crisis.1
Let’s look at telehealth itself and its differences between telemedicine as well as its ongoing importance to the healthcare industry.
Telehealth vs Telemedicine
Though telehealth has entered into the mainstream due to COVID-19, for many the term is interchangeable with telemedicine. Despite their similarities, telehealth encompasses more scope. According to the Health Resources Services Administration, telehealth is the broad umbrella term for remote healthcare services under which telemedicine resides. Telehealth refers to a variety of technologies and techniques for providing virtual health care to patients. Types of services under telehealth include but are not limited to:
- Traditional one-on-one patient visits and
- Non-clinical services like
- Admin meetings,
- Training, and
- Educational seminars.2
Telehealth services provide long-distance care electronically, typically over videoconferencing, which in and of itself has posed HIPAA concerns as well as concerns to patients, practitioners, and providers. However, due to the pandemic, the need for patient care remotely has shifted perspective, making telehealth essential.
By comparison, telemedicine is a more narrow term for specific clinical services performed remotely that focus on traditional clinical diagnosis and monitoring.2 It does not include the same broad range of services that telehealth does.
Because of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has made it easier for practitioners to provide telehealth services to patients. For more information about HIPAA flexibility, telehealth waivers, and additional flexibility, check out the HHS website for more details.
As so much of health care has moved online, practitioners are now working to find balance. For many practitioners, any form of virtual visits in the past were a non-starter. Now with so many who have transitioned to online services, finding a way to bridge both virtual and in-office services is a challenge.3
Widening the field to include more remote services can have larger appeal to many patients, especially those for whom at-home care would be ideal. It would also help practitioners expand their reach to help patients who otherwise could not make the trip to the office.
However, before any long-term plans can be made, there will need to be many policy changes beyond the current policies adopted quickly at the start of the pandemic. The need for lasting policy changes and initiatives is essential to the longevity of telehealth. Though there are doubts, given its accessibility to much of the public and how vitally important it has become since COVID-19 began, telehealth is very likely here to stay.
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1Reed, Tina. “UnitedHealth Exec on Telehealth Use, Reimbursement: ‘The Genie Is out of the Bottle’.” FierceHealthcare, 2 June 2020, www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/unitedhealth-exec-telehealth-use-reimbursement-genie-out-bottle.
2“What Is Telehealth? How Is Telehealth Different from Telemedicine?” HealthIT.gov, 17 Oct. 2019, www.healthit.gov/faq/what-telehealth-how-telehealth-different-telemedicine.
3Jercich, Kat. “Telehealth’s Post-COVID Challenge: Integrating in-Person Care.” Healthcare IT News, 4 June 2020, www.healthcareitnews.com/news/telehealths-post-covid-challenge-integrating-person-care.