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Frequently Asked Questions

Telehealth vs Telemedicine

The terms 'Telehealth' and 'Telemedicine' are often used interchangeably. Each state in the United States has a slightly different definition for these terms, as you can see in the Center for Connected Health Policy's semi-annual State Telehealth Laws and Reimbursement Policies.

In essence, though, 'telehealth' is a broader term that includes not only telemedicine, but is also used for any type of healthcare activity involving technology for preventative, educational, and health-related administrative activities.

According to HealtIT.gov This includes:

  • Live and Interactive (synchronous) Videoconferencing, which includes a 2-way audiovisual connection between a patient and a healthcare provider
  • Store and Forward (asynchronous) Videoconferencing, where a recorded video, image, or data is sent to a remote healthcare provider.  Examples of this could be x-rays, dermatology images like moles or rashes, laboratory data, etc.
  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM), which uses technology to record personal health information like blood pressures, weight, pulse, etc. at a patient's location and sending that data to a healthcare provider in a different location for review.
  • Mobile health (mHealth), which includes both healthcare and other public health information that is provided through mobile devices. 

Telemedicine, on the other hand, refers to the actual clinical encounter for diagnosis and treatment between a patient and a healthcare provider, who are in different locations.

NOTE: It important to realize that telehealth and telemedicine ARE NOT services in and of themselves, but are simply different delivery mechanisms for the same healthcare services that can be delivered in-person.

 

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 HIPAA compliant videoconferencing. 

A nurse or other clinician 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 videoconferencing screen. Cameras and other digital monitoring tools allow the specialist to see onscreen 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 a skin concern. Aside from the technology, sessions are treated like in-person appointments.

Do healthcare insurance companies reimburse for telehealth and telemedicine services?

In many cases, yes, telehealth and telemedicine services are reimbursed by insurance. However, there are different rules for each healthcare insurance provider. 

Medicare, in general, pays for telemedicine service in rural locations.

All 50 state Medicaid programs and the District of Columbia reimburse for telehealth. But, each state has different nuances that you should become familiar with before starting a telehealth program.

Commercial insurance company reimbursement for telehealth and telemedicine also vary by state.  Some states have what are called 'parity' laws.  A state may have a law for 'parity in coverage' or a law for 'parity in payment' or neither or both. 

'Parity in coverage' means that the commercial insurance company is required by state law to cover healthcare services provided via telehealth and/or telemedicine as if the services were provided in person.    

'Parity in payment' means that the commercial insurance company is required by state law to reimburse healthcare services provided via telehealth and/or telemedicine as if the services were provided in person.

For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement, check out the state specific reimbursement summaries in the Resources Section of this website, under Reimbursement.

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.

How can telehealth benefit our organization?

There are a myriad of telehealth benefits for providers, some of which include increased service offerings within your facilities, increased revenues, enhanced competitive differentiation, and improved patient experience. 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?

To discuss the specific benefits that your organization could realize through telehealth implementation, visit the Contact Us page to connect with an Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center staff member.

How do we build a successful telehealth program?

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 Contact Us page to connect with an Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center staff member.

How do we train providers to deliver care via telemedicine?

Many colleges and institutions are incorporating telehealth and telemedicine training into their curriculum. Also, younger generations are so familiar with videoconferencing that speaking with someone via video is normal for them. But, as in all situations, there are some tips and tricks to the trade.  Instead of 'beside manner', the provider must develop their 'webside manner'. 

Training can accomplished in a variety of modalities: in-person workshops, webinars, and/or online modules.  Below are links to several options:

UMTRC Training
Use the Contact Us to get in touch with a UMTRC staff member to discuss customized training options.

National School of Applied Telehealth
https://www.nationalschoolofappliedtelehealth.org/oltpublish/site/cms.do

California Telehealth Resource Center
http://www.caltrc.org/knowledge-center/training/

 

 

Will telehealth someday eliminate the need to visit a doctor's office?

While technology will certainly 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 has 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.

As a patient, how can I access telehealth services?

Access to telehealth and telemedicine services are rapidly increasing across the country. Many commercial insurance companies now offer some type of virtual telemedicine platform. If you’re interested in seeing your provider virtually, call your provider or insurance company and ask whether they offer telemedicine services.

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, there are still times when it would be more appropriate for a patient to see a healthcare provider in person.  On a broader scale, telehealth and telemedicine can be used for skin cancer screenings, mental health evaluations, orthopedic consults, management of chronic diseases and a wide range of other medical services.

For providers that do not have telehealth capabilities, the UMTRC offers many resources that can help them get started. Have them visit our Resources page to learn more.

Can telehealth programs really improve patient outcomes?  Are there any clinical impact studies for telehealth? 

These days, nearly everyone has a cell phone; sometimes more than one. Children are being introduced to electronic devices like tablets and cell phones at a young age.  As a society, we live our lives connected by social media and cloud-bases apps and verbal response devices.  Is it any wonder that telehealth is becoming more and mainstream?  The world of scholarly telehealth studies is no different.  There are an every-increasing number of studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of telehealth. 

Some 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.

The National Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers have compiled several research catalogues reflecting the efficacy of telehealth.

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