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What is Telemedicine? [Glossary of Terms]

June 27, 2017

Patrick Spain

One of the frequent buzz words in healthcare discussions today is telemedicine. Indeed, telemedicine is generally recognized as one of the rare innovations that enhances the quality of available healthcare, while reducing costs.

Unfortunately, references to telemedicine, in the press and elsewhere, are often confusing.  A primary reason for this confusion is that telemedicine is not one service. It is an emerging set of new healthcare services.  To assist you in understanding of discussions of telemedicine, we have created a glossary of related terms and services, which appears below:

A Functional Definition:

  • Telemedicine: The range of activities that involve the remote evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of a patient by a healthcare provider through a telecommunications connection (which can be audio or video), as opposed to treatment that takes place during a physical visit to the provider’s office.

Telemedicine Activities:

A Virtual Consultation: The equivalent of a doctor’s office visit that takes place via telemedicine: A consultation between a doctor and a patient who are connected via some form of telecommunications. First Stop Health provides its members with virtual consultations, as do many primary care physicians who schedule virtual consultations with patients. These activities are also called Real-Time Telehealth.

Remote Monitoring: Services that collect, store and transmit patient data; where this data is often available to doctors providing remote treatment through telemedicine.

Rural Telemedicine: With growing shortages of doctors in U.S. rural areas, many healthcare services are now offered to residents of rural communities through some type of telemedicine.

Store and Forward: When digitized records, such as x-rays, are captured in one location and forwarded to a specialist, in a second location, for a diagnosis; or where information associated with ongoing monitoring (such as glucose levels) is captured, digitized and forwarded to healthcare providers for the evaluation of ongoing treatments. These activities are also called Asynchronous Telemedicine, since the information is captured at one moment in time, while the evaluation of the information happens at a different time.

Types of Telemedicine:

  • Ocular Telehealth: Through sophisticate retinal imaging equipment, eye scans of patients are captured and forwarded to remote specialists, as a means of scanning for eye diseases; or as a means of evaluating, diagnosing and providing patient treatment. This is an example of Asynchronous Store and Forward telemedicine.
  • Non-Emergency Care: Virtual Consultations with a patient’s primary care doctor, or 24-hour service, such as First Stop Health, to discuss symptoms leading to a diagnosis and treatment.
  • TeleDermatology: The remote diagnosis and treatment of skin ailments.
  • TeleHospitalist: Many small and rural hospitals cannot afford to have a doctor on the premises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A TeleHospitalist is a physician who is located remotely, but available to these hospitals at any time. With sophisticated equipment installed at the hospital, a TeleHospitalist guides the local hospital staff in responding to unexpected patient treatment needs, typically late at night.
  • TeleICU: An additional telemedicine service that was initially developed for small and rural hospitals, which often have difficulty providing sophisticated care for patients in intensive care units (ICU’s). TeleICU services involve doctors who are specialists in critical care that use sophisticated equipment to Remotely Monitor the condition of ICU patients in several hospitals. These remote doctors then provide expert guidance to the local clinical staff on the appropriate treatment to respond to the sudden needs that arise, at any moment, in caring for the severely ill patients in an ICU.
  • TeleStroke: For stroke victims, the shorter the time between the stroke and appropriate treatment, the greater the chances of recovery. TeleStroke services generally involve equipping first responders, such as ambulance teams, with equipment that allows expert physicians to remotely diagnosis the symptoms of potential stroke victims and to instruct the local team on the appropriate treatment to initiate immediately.
  • TelePsychiatry and TeleMental Health: Virtual Consultations and evaluations involving patients and behavioral health professionals through virtual consultations, avoiding the need for patients to travel for office visits.
  • Teleradiology: When x-rays or the results of other imaging tests involving radiology are collected at one location, digitized, and forwarded for diagnosis to a radiologist at another location. This is an additional example of Asynchronous Store and Forward telemedicine.
  • TeleSurgery: This term has two different meanings. It can refer to Remote Virtual Consultations between physicians associated concerning the need for surgery or evaluations associated with recovery from surgery. It may also refer to surgery performed through a robotic system where the surgeon is physically located in different site than the patient.
  • TeleRehabilitation: The delivery of at-home rehabilitation services to patients by a healthcare provider, through a telecommunications connection. These Virtual Consultations provide valuable convenience for recovering patients who may find frequent travel for rehabilitation services particularly difficult.

The breadth of valuable telemedicine services is now expanding daily, so no glossary can remain comprehensive. However, we hope this list provides you with a more informed understanding of the references to telemedicine and its growing significance.

Originally published Jun 27, 2017 4:58:57 PM.