Telehealth Treatment, Not Telemedicine

August 14, 2012
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I’ve been down this road before so I’m very familiar with the problems reporters face when writing articles about telemedicine. In this case, I wish it was just a problem with a headline writer, but unfortunately the misuse of the terms “teleheath” and “telemedicine” are throughout this particular story and is based on an interview with a wireless network provider.

I’ve been down this road before so I’m very familiar with the problems reporters face when writing articles about telemedicine. In this case, I wish it was just a problem with a headline writer, but unfortunately the misuse of the terms “teleheath” and “telemedicine” are throughout this particular story and is based on an interview with a wireless network provider.

What am I referring to?  The July 27th Healthcare IT News article titled “Top 5 health conditions for telemedicine treatment.”  There is a reason why it’s important to make a distinction here between telehealth and telemedicine when used in the specific sense.  Simply stated, they are two different things that use technology to benefit patients.  Four of the five health conditions in the article deal with telehealth solutions – not telemedicine.  The key differential is “monitoring.”  Telehealth systems are passive; they monitor a person’s vital signs.  Telemedicine systems, on the other hand, enable doctors to see patients at a remote location in a real-time, live encounter via videoconference.

So, the first of the conditions in the piece is “Active heart monitoring.”  As it says in the description, “they only send notifications with information that is outside an acceptable range.”

Condition #2 – blood pressure. “Continuous cycle reporting and electronic dispatch in urgent situations” but no live presence with a doctor.

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Condition #3 – diabetes.  “Wireless glucose monitoring devices.”

Condition #5 (I’ll get to #4 shortly) – sleep apnea. They “report on sleep patterns, body position and breathing.”

The fourth condition, prescription compliance, is still about monitoring to eliminate “medication misses.” There is a reference to phone calls but the monitoring is meant to reduce phone calls between doctors and patients.  Since the writer provides no explanation how this monitoring occurs, we aren’t told why that mechanism would be classified as telemedicine.

I find myself arguing this point all too often.  Certainly, telehealth can be used in a broader sense to involve all healthcare technologies, but when this is done, telemedicine is always cited as a distinct branch of telehealth.  That isn’t the direction this article takes.  In fact, it’s just the opposite, categorizing telehealth monitoring technologies as telemedicine.  So, really, the correct title for the article is the “Top 5 health conditions for telehealth treatment.”

GlobalMed is in the telemedicine space.  We provide solutions that bring doctors to their patients who can be hundreds of miles away. Now if the reporter wants to write an article on the “Top 5 health conditions for telemedicine treatment,” I would suggest telestroke, telecardiology, teledermatology, teletrauma, and teleprimary care.