Understanding the Difference: Telemedicine and Telehealth

Understanding the Difference: Telemedicine and Telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth are terms that have been used interchangeably over the years. However, sources indicate that telemedicine can also be identified as a category within telehealth, which, in turn, is much broader.

According to the World Health Organization, telemedicine is a term that originated in the 1970s. It comes from the Latin "medicus" and Greek "tele," which literally translates to "healing at a distance."

The World Health Organization adopts the following definition of telemedicine, as shown in its 2010 report:

“The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals, using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.” 

The term telehealth was then coined after telemedicine, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy. “While ‘telemedicine’ has been more commonly used in the past, ‘telehealth’ is a more universal term for the current broad array of applications in the field,” the organization states. 

The Center for Connected Health Policy explains that while telemedicine refers to the "traditional diagnostic and monitoring activities" via technologies, telehealth describes a wide range of activities that expand beyond these clinical practices, such as consumer and professional education, home health, and other domains.

An example of telemedicine would be a patient in a clinical setting speaking with a doctor, who may be miles of distance away, via video/audio technologies and broadband capabilities, explains Rick Foster, an executive with the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Telehealth encompasses the same type of clinical service. But it extends its scope to include practices beyond the clinical setting, such as a group of providers being trained to use telehealth equipment at a hospital, or perhaps an engineer working to develop new solutions for telehealth applications.

"Another type of telehealth that is well-known is home monitoring," says James McElligott, Chair of the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance. "You might have a diabetic home monitoring device and then you deliver those blood sugar levels to a provider; that would be called telehealth."

Although there are many variations of telehealth, McElligot explains that as long as we are talking about technology over distance to deliver care, it all falls under that umbrella of telehealth.