What is telehealth?
Telehealth, telemedicine, digital health and eHealth. These words may sound familiar, but what do they actually mean? It’s not surprising most Australians are overwhelmed or confused by these terms and the differences between them. Put simply, they all revolve around the integration of technology with healthcare in order to improve access, effectiveness and efficiency.
Australia’s population is growing at a significant rate, meaning our healthcare system is facing mounting pressure, particularly to cater to our ageing population and those who suffer from chronic illnesses. Patients are also increasingly using technology to become more actively involved in their own health care. In 2014, the RACGP reported that 62% of patients seek health services online, with patients aged 15–24 most likely to have used the internet to search for health-related info in the previous month - at 91.7%.
These elements, along with the continuous improvement of technology and broadband services, have created a market for digital health and more specifically, telehealth, to thrive within Australia.
The term ‘Digital health’ refers broadly to the use of any digital technologies that can be used within healthcare. This includes any software, hardware or technology-based services that are involved in the management and delivery of healthcare systems such as mobile phone applications and online health records. Digital Health also includes active patient involvement with wearable devices like the Fitbit, which collects data that can be used for more precise and personalized care.
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Fitbit Charge 3 tracker and Fitbit Application
“eHealth” is a more specific term that has been adopted by the public sector and commonly refers to Electronic Medical Records such as the Australian Government’s implementation of “My Health Record”. eHealth focuses on enhancing usability, patient and provider registration and better sharing of clinical information.
Telehealth, an element of digital health, refers to ‘the use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance.’
So It’s all about transmitting voice, data, images and information rather than moving care recipients, health professionals or educators.
Some examples of Telehealth could include:
- patient to practitioner online consultation
- a robotic surgery occurring through remote access
- physical therapy provided via digital monitoring
To add to the confusion, in Australia, we often use the term "telehealth" just to mean online consultations. At Coviu we are therefore increasingly using "video consultation" or "video visit" to clarify this distinction.
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth that refers specifically to ‘the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance’.
It has been used to overcome distance barriers and to improve access to medical services in rural communities and also used to save lives in critical care and emergency situations. Early forms of telemedicine were achieved with telephone and radio have now been supplemented with video technology.
Some examples could include:
- transmission of medical images between healthcare centres for diagnosis
- Home-monitoring for the elderly
- Chronic disease care services (e.g. for, diabetics)
From a patient perspective, telemedicine allows for swift referrals and transfers between healthcare professionals and drastically reduces travel time and associated costs. For clinicians, telemedicine provides opportunities for greater work flexibility, increased income and improved patient outcomes. Both parties experience greater continuity of care, as well as cost efficiencies.
In essence, Telehealth and Telemedicine have a lot of crossover but generally, both mean the delivery of remote healthcare, whereby the patient and the clinician are not in the same room. The term which is most commonly used in Australia is Telehealth.
If you have read this far, congratulations! You are now well informed about the digital health sphere and its growth in Australia. If you would like to know more about anything discussed in this article or are interested in how Telehealth can transform your practice, click here to contact us here at Coviu. To read similar, insightful articles, check out Coviu’s company blog.