“While ‘telemedicine’ has been more commonly used in the past, ‘telehealth’ is a more universal term for the current broad array of applications in the field,” the TRC network states in its online resource guide. “Its use crosses most health service disciplines, including dentistry, counseling, physical therapy and home health, and many other domains. Further, telehealth practice has expanded beyond traditional diagnostic and monitoring activities to include consumer and professional education. Note that while a connection exists between health information technology (HIT), health information exchange (HIE) and telehealth, neither HIE nor HIT are considered to be telehealth.”
Even the American Telemedicine Association also considers telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable. “While the term telehealth is sometimes used to refer to a broader definition of remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services, (the) ATA uses the terms in the same way one would refer to medicine or health in the common vernacular,” the organization states.
Any technology that is used to store, share, or analyze health information can be referred to as “health information technology” or healthIT. This broad category includes things like practice management systems and online patient portals. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is a group of technologies within health IT that is used to provide clinical care, health information, or health education at a distance. Telehealth technology includes both software and hardware.
Initially, Medicare only reimbursed providers for very specific health services provided via telemedicine, often with strict requirements. In the past few years with the rapid growth in the telemedicine industry, Medicare has expanded the list of reimbursable telemedicine services but still imposes many restrictions on how the service is provided.
Healthcare systems, policymakers, vendors, and providers alike can attest to the many gray areas within telemedicine. One particular area that requires more clarity is the legalities surrounding telemedicine. With it being an industry that is constantly growing, it has become difficult to create a concrete solution. In addition, each state follows different laws for telemedicine, which makes it increasingly difficult to keep up with it.
Telehealth is defined as the delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies. Live video conferencing, mobile health apps, “store and forward” electronic transmission, and remote patient monitoring (RPM) are examples of technologies used in telehealth.
Telemedicine reimbursement is a difficult topic, especially with the constantly changing state policies. Many states now have parity laws which require private payers to reimburse for telemedicine visits the same way as in-person visits. The best way to navigate reimbursement is to call up your top payers and ask their policies. You can also check out our guide to telemedicine reimbursement and this helpful matrix from ATA on state policy.
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