Frequently Asked Questions

  • The Telehealth Resource Center

    The Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) have a mission to serve as a focal point for advancing the effective use of telehealth and support access to telehealth services in rural and underserved communities. The TRCs are funded by the federal Office for the Advancement of Telehealth.

    For other helpful resources, links and TRC sites click Here.

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  • About Telemedicine

    Telemedicine, broadly defined, is the delivery of any healthcare service or transmission of wellness information using telecommunications technology.  Closely associated with telemedicine is the term "telehealth," which is often used to encompass a broader definition of remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services. Videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.

    Telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty. Products and services related to telemedicine are often part of a larger investment by health care institutions in either information technology or the delivery of clinical care. Even in the reimbursement fee structure, there is usually no distinction made between services provided on site and those provided through telemedicine and often no separate coding required for billing of remote services.

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  • Telemedicine Defined

    Telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients' health status. Closely associated with telemedicine is the term "telehealth," which is often used to encompass a broader definition of remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services. Videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.


    Telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty. Products and services related to telemedicine are often part of a larger investment by health care institutions in either information technology or the delivery of clinical care. Even in the reimbursement fee structure, there is usually no distinction made between services provided on site and those provided through telemedicine and often no separate coding required for billing of remote services.

    Telemedicine encompasses different types of programs and services provided for the patient. Each component involves different providers and consumers.


    Telemedicine Services

    • Specialist referral services typically involves of a specialist assisting a general practitioner in rendering a diagnosis. This may involve a patient "seeing" a specialist over a live, remote consult or the transmission of diagnostic images and/or video along with patient data to a specialist for viewing later. Recent surveys have shown a rapid increase in the number of specialty and subspecialty areas that have successfully used telemedicine. Radiology continues to make the greatest use of telemedicine with thousands of images "read" by remote providers each year. Other major specialty areas include: dermatology, ophthalmology, mental health, cardiology and pathology. According to reports and studies, almost 50 different medical subspecialties have successfully used telemedicine. 
    • Patient consultations using telecommunications to provide medical data, which may include audio, still or live images, between a patient and a health professional for use in rendering a diagnosis and treatment plan. This might originate from a remote clinic to a physician's office using a direct transmission link or may include communicating over the Web. 
    • Remote patient monitoring uses devices to remotely collect and send data to a monitoring station for interpretation. Such "home telehealth" applications might include a specific vital sign, such as blood glucose or heart ECG or a variety of indicators for homebound patients. Such services can be used to supplement the use of visiting nurses. 
    • Medical education provides continuing medical education credits for health professionals and special medical education seminars for targeted groups in remote locations. 
    • Consumer medical and health information includes the use of the Internet for consumers to obtain specialized health information and on-line discussion groups to provide peer-to-peer support.

    Delivery Mechanisms

    • Networked programs link tertiary care hospitals and clinics with outlying clinics and community health centers in rural or suburban areas. The links may use dedicated high-speed lines or the Internet for telecommunication links between sites. Studies by the several agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, private vendors and assessments by ATA of its membership place the number of existing telemedicine networks in the United States at roughly 200. These programs involve close to 2,000 medical institutions throughout the country. Of these programs, it is estimated that about half (100) are actively providing patient care services on a daily basis. The others are only occasionally used for patient care and are primarily for administrative or educational use.
    • Point-to-point connections using private networks are used by hospitals and clinics that deliver services directly or contract out specialty services to independent medical service providers at ambulatory care sites. Radiology, mental health and even intensive care services are being provided under contract using telemedicine to delivery the services.
    • Primary or specialty care to the home connections involves connecting primary care providers, specialists and home health nurses with patients over single line phone-video systems for interactive clinical consultations.
    • Home to monitoring center links are used for cardiac, pulmonary or fetal monitoring, home care and related services that provide care to patients in the home. Often normal phone lines are used to communicate directly between the patient and the center although some systems use the Internet.
    • Web-based e-health patient service sites provide direct consumer outreach and services over the Internet. Under telemedicine, these include those sites that provide direct patient care.

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  • What is Telehealth?


    Telehealth is the delivery of health services using technology in order to improve access to quality healthcare in rural and urban communities across the nation. It allows patients to access specialists and doctors they might not otherwise be able to within the comfort of their local community or sometimes even their home. Telehealth can also help minimize healthcare costs while reducing patient travel time and time away from work and family. Ultimately, telehealth can minimize the complication of disease and even save lives through more proactive screening and early diagnosis for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

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  • As a patient, how can I access Telehealth services?

    Access to telehealth services is rapidly increasing across the country. If you’re interested in telehealth, call your provider and ask whether they offer telehealth services. For providers that do not have telehealth capabilities, there are myriad resource centers that can help them get started. Visit our Resources page to learn more.

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  • What does telemedicine mean to me and my family?

    Telemedicine is designed for one thing: to bring quality primary health care and specialty services to remote areas of the location of your residence, where it might not otherwise be economical to do. It can bring more timely services to you when your need is urgent and severe in nature, and the follow-up care can be done right in your home town in many instances. Potentially, telemedicine can save you and your family the inconvenience of traveling to referral centers hours away.

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  • Are Telemedicine consults covered by insurance?

    In many cases, telehealth services are covered by insurance. Your provider can offer information regarding reimbursement options available to you. For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement, visit www.CTEL.org. In circumstances where telehealth isn’t covered by insurance, private pay is an option for patients who want to realize the benefits of telehealth, including saving on travel expenses they would normally spend to see a specialist.

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  • How can Telehealth impact a community?

    Telehealth can help improve the perception of the levels of quality care available in the community, which is attractive to people who are considering a move to the area.

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  • Will Telehealth someday eliminate the need to visit a doctor’s office?

    While technology will continue to enhance the delivery of healthcare as we know it, it will likely never eliminate the need for in-person interaction in healthcare. Just like email changed the way businesses communicate, telehealth is changing our definition of the “typical” office visit. The results will be improved access to care, lower cost of delivery and, ultimately, improved patient outcomes.

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  • Are there any studies that illustrate the clinical impact of Telehealth, in terms of improving patient outcomes?

    There are several studies that demonstrate the impact of telehealth. Some of them evaluate the impact of telehealth on lowering healthcare costs while others look at the business case for telehealth. In terms of the clinical impact of telehealth, there are many reports that highlight the clinical benefits of increased access to care, which telehealth can provide.

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  • How does Telehealth work?

    A patient can have a telemedicine consultation at a local healthcare facility that offers telehealth services. There, the patient is connected to a specialist who is in a separate location via video. A nurse is often on hand with the patient to conduct physical exam tasks (such as taking vital signs), as requested by the specialist on the other side of the video screen. Cameras and other monitoring tools allow the specialist to see on screen exactly what the nurse is seeing in person. For example, during a dermatological exam, the specialist is able to zoom in and polarize a view of the skin concern. Aside from the technology, sessions are treated like in-person appointments.

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  • Could I seek a Telemedicine consult for an ear infection, or a cold?

    Theoretically, you could use telemedicine for any health concern, because a telemedicine consult is designed to be just like a regular doctor’s appointment. However, most often, telemedicine is used when a patient needs access to specialized services not offered by his or her home provider. On a broader scale, telehealth can be used for skin cancer screenings, mental health evaluations, orthopedic consults, management of chronic diseases and a wide range of other medical services.

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  • What is the difference between Telehealth and Telemedicine? Are they the same?

    No. The term telemedicine refers specifically to patient and health care provider encounters for diagnosis and treatment. The term telehealth is a broader term to include telemedicine, but also includes using the technology for preventative, educational, and health-related administrative activities. Telehealth is typically used as a broader term to describe remote healthcare education and administration and wellness consults that transcend clinical services, whereas telemedicine more narrowly refers to remote clinical services. While it’s a subtle nuance, it’s very similar to the difference between health and medicine in the common vernacular.

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  • How can I become trained in delivering care via telehealth capabilities?

    There are several educational resources and CE courses available to train clinicians on how to deliver care via telehealth capabilities. The University of Minnesota’s nursing course is one example. For a broader list of educational opportunities, visit the Resources page to connect with a telehealth resource center in your area.

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  • How do we build a successful telehealth program? What does it take?

    A successful telehealth program requires more than equipment. The keys to success include: strategic planning, commitment, C-level support for budget and staffing, a culture that embraces technology as part of the patient-care solution, support of another provider/location to deliver the services you want to tap into via telehealth and a technology infrastructure that supports the addition of telehealth services. For advice on how to get all the necessary components in place for a successful telehealth program, visit the Resources page and connect with a telehealth resource center in your area.

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  • What are the benefits of Telehealth, in terms of growth opportunities?

    There are myriad telehealth benefits for providers, some of which include increased service offerings within your facilities, increased revenues, enhanced competitive differentiation, and improved patient experience. To discuss the specific benefits that your organization could realize through telehealth implementation, visit the Resources page and connect with a telehealth resource center in your area.

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  • How do we know if Telehealth is right for our organization?

    There are several questions you can ask to help you identify the value telehealth can provide to your organization. If you answer “yes” to one or more of the following questions, telehealth could be a great asset to your organization.

    • Do you have dispersed locations within the same health system?
    • Do you provide outreach services?
    • Do your patients travel to other facilities for services not available at yours?
    • Have you identified health disparities in your community for which you don’t have the services or expertise necessary to provide care?
    • Do your competitors utilize telehealth services and are you losing market share as a result?

    For a complete list of criteria to help you evaluate whether telehealth is a fit for your organization, visit the Resources page and connect with a telehealth resource center in your area.

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UMTRC Blog:

  • Advancing Telemedicine -- Indiana Scores a Win

    Monday, July 18, 2016

    In July, Indiana scored a major win on the telemedicine legislative front. A new telemedicine state statute went into effect which expands the use of telemedicine together with certain prescribing rights (without an in-person office visit).


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  • Telehealth Legislation in 2016

    Tuesday, March 29, 2016

    As of March 25, 2016, there have been 133 telehealth related bills introduced in 30 states across the nation.  The most common legislation addresses reimbursement, telehealth professional standards, the need for in-person examinations, prescribing, and cross-state licensing.

     


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