Telehealth Vs TeleMedicine: What is the difference?
Reading through many articles both in Australia and overseas it is easy to see how the public are possibly confused over the seemingly interchangeable terms to describe care given via technology either by telephone, email or video conferencing. It is also used loosely and is often confusing to the audience and the person delivering the TeleHealth or Telemedicine consult or advice.
As reported in TeleMedicine Journal ‘Clinical Telemedicine is defined as the exchange of health information pertaining to a patient, via telecommunications technology and computers, between geographically separated providers or providers and patients, for the purposes of evaluation, diagnosis, treatment or education.’ 2002. Whilst this was described more than 13 years ago and technology has changed enormously it is arguable that this still remains a valid description of TeleMedicine today.
Telehealth it seems can refer to a broader scope of clinical and non-clinical services for which are delivered by various methods of technology and by both doctors and allied health professionals.
Clinical services in the most refers to a registered doctor, recognised specialist doctor, and registered and qualified allied and medical professionals. Whereas non-clinical may refer to an advice line where possibly trained medical triage personnel maybe engaged in providing advice only.
Whatever the term used it is important for the patient to clarify at the onset of the inquiry whether they are after advice from a medical doctor or advice to refer to a medical professional. In Australia in the most the clinical model refers to a consult with a doctor or specialist and is a paid model due to the Medicare system not recognising the one on one face to face consult with a doctor or GP with a patient as a rebateable service. However, if the consult is undertaken with a patient, GP and specialist doctor then it is a Medicare rebateable service which may only incur a small out of pocket cost to the patient.
Whether a patient requires advice from a trained triage person or requires a qualified consult with a doctor is up to the patient in the first instance. However, a triage person is only qualified to assist in referring to a qualified doctor if the presentation requires a clinical diagnosis and treatment.
The Medical board of Australia has set out in the guidelines on ‘Technology-based patient consultations’ that it does not require face to face consults it follows onto put the onus back onto the doctor. It states that it is the doctor’s duty to make sure that the care of the patients is their primary concern and that the doctor practices safe medicine ethically and trustworthy. Making a judgement about the appropriateness of the technology is up to the doctor however, having a face to face consult does provide the doctor with additional methods when assessing the patient’s condition.
A Telemedicine consult can in fact lead to a Telehealth consult should the doctor recommend that his colleague, an Allied Health professional needs to be consulted for the most appropriate treatment of the patient.
So in summary it seems that the terms are often marketed as interchangeable and that a patient must check that the consult they have entered into is appropriate and value for money.