What is Telemedicine?

As COVID-19 continues to evolve, more hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been adding telemedicine services to keep their employees and patients healthy and safe. But what exactly is telemedicine and how does it work? And what does that mean for you, the patient? Well, don’t worry. We’re here to answer all of your questions. 

What is telemedicine?

cover of 1924 Radio News magazine
Source: t.magazineart.org

Telemedicine is the process of using telecommunications technology to remotely diagnose and treat patients. In layman’s terms, this means using audio or video chats over the internet to meet with patients virtually, rather than seeing them in person. 

While this may sound like a new concept, healthcare provided in a home setting has been around for years. In fact, the cover of Radio News from 1924 shows a doctor conducting a “telehealth” service by way of radio transmission. And before that, an article in the 1879 Lancet talked about reducing unnecessary office visits by using the telephone for care. 

How does telemedicine work?

Telemedicine works just like a normal doctor’s visit. You’ll still go through the regular process of setting up a doctor’s appointment, and choosing the date and time. The only difference is it’s virtual! Before your virtual appointment, your provider will give you instructions on how to join the audio or video call through their website or app. You can use a smartphone, tablet or computer for a virtual visit, just as long as the device you choose has a camera. Before you log in, you’ll also want to make sure you have a strong internet connection. 

Why is telemedicine great for patients?

Virtual visits have many benefits for patients including:

  • Less time taken off work
  • No sitting in traffic to get to an appointment
  • No paying for public parking or public transportations to and from the appointment
  • No need to make childcare arrangements
  • No need to sit in a waiting room with other patients who may have a contagious illness
  • Covered by most insurances just like a normal clinic visit (most providers will check if your insurance covers telemedicine visits prior to scheduling one)

Are telemedicine visits effective?

Many visits such as post-operative appointments, medication checks, and other types of follow-up appointments can be performed just as effectively via a telemedicine visit as they would be in person. In fact, many studies have shown that the health outcomes of virtual visits are just as good as those conducted in person. Your doctor will only schedule visits via telemedicine if the nature of that visit lends itself to that approach. If something comes up during your visit that makes your doctor believe an in-person visit is necessary, one can be scheduled immediately. 

Is my data safe?

If you are worried about your data not being secure, ask your doctor if they use a telemedicine application that’s HIPAA compliant. Any HIPAA-compliant application will protect your confidentiality and provide secure lines of communication between you and your doctor.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telehealth refers to both remote clinical services AND remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, continuing medical education, administrative meetings, etc. 

Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth and is used to refer to ONLY remote clinical services such as patient appointments, medication prescribing, etc. 

Other telemedicine terms to know

Telemonitoring: Telemonitoring is the use of audio, video or other electronic information sharing technology to monitor the health status of a patient from a distance. Telemonitoring can be used to track things like a patient’s heart rate, blood sugar levels, etc. 

Encryption: Encryption is a system of encoding data so that the information can only be retrieved and decoded by an authorized user. In telemedicine, it is important that data is encrypted so that patient confidentiality is not compromised. 

eHealth: Short for electronic health, eHealth is another way to describe a healthcare practice which is supported by electronic processes and communication.

ePrescribing: the electronic generation, transmission and filling of a medical prescription (as opposed to the traditional paper prescriptions and faxing). 

HIPAA: an acronym for Health Information Portability and Accountability Act. The HIPAA privacy rule protects the privacy of a patient’s individually identifiable health information and sets national standards for the security of electronic health information.