When we think about the changes COVID-19 has brought forth, we often think about death, despair and loneliness. However, in this frightening time, we also have seen some remarkable advancements developed by those on the frontline of the pandemic. One of those positive innovations is telehealth or telemedicine. Healthcare providers have had to be creative in finding a way to continue to treat patients in a safe and effective manner. These solutions offer a way for patients and providers to connect when they are not in the same physical space. 

Telemedicine and Telehealth Defined

Telehealth and telemedicine allow for the patient to connect directly to their provider and obtain a wide variety of care. These methods have been being utilized in varied ways in the U.S. for decades. What was once remote call lines is turning into more opportunities for remote monitoring of patients and real-time interaction between provider and patient that allows for diagnosing and treatment. 

Although the terms telehealth and telemedicine are oftentimes used interchangeably, there are some differences.  Telemedicine is defined as, “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.”1 The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) describes telemedicine as, “a service that seeks to improve a patient’s health by permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication between the patient and the physician at a distant site.”2  

Telehealth, on the other hand, encompasses a broader scope and and includes both clinical and nonclinical health services. It is defined as, “electronic and telecommunications technologies and services used to provide care and services at a distance.”3 This option of care can allow for medication refills, therapy and counseling, chronic condition management and even acute care visits in some cases. It is important for the patient to discuss their condition or reason for the visit with the provider staff when scheduling to assure that telehealth is an appropriate method of visit for the specific condition. 

What’s Needed for a Telehealth Visit

Multiple platforms are available for providers that are HIPPA compliant. In addition to the platform needed to initiate a telehealth visit, a webcam and microphone are needed for the provider and webcam and microphone or smartphone is needed for the patient. Both parties must have reliable access to the internet. It is important for the patient to feel comfortable and safe in the space where the visit is taking place. Reducing noise and other distractions is important.  

The Advantages of Telehealth

Telehealth allows for providers and patients to meet in a HIPPA compliant safe space that is focused on patient needs. This gives both the patient and  provider the opportunity to connect when care is needed. Advantages include nearly unlimited access to healthcare providers through video and text communication, limited exposure of communicable disease, cost effectiveness, reduction of strain on healthcare facilities and staff and the ability to reach rural areas. All of these advantages increase accessibility to healthcare in both the primary and specialty sector. There has been a surge in telehealth visits since the COVID-19 pandemic began. During the period from June 26- November 6, 2020; 30.2 percent of weekly health center visits occurred via telehealth.4 It can be expected to continue to see the use of telehealth services in the future. 

Healthcare systems have been stretched thin over the past year and half not only related to COVID-19, but also due to providers having to continue to treat chronic disease and other acute disease and injury processes. Telehealth and telemedicine offer opportunities to relieve some of the stress facing healthcare providers by offering patients a new safe environment for care.

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  1. American Telemedicine Association (ATA), 2020. What is telehealth? https://www.aap.org/en-us/professional-resources/practice-transformation/telehealth/Pages/What-is-Telehealth.aspx
  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 2020. Telemedicine.https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/telemedicine/index.html
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians, 2021. What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth? https://www.aafp.org/news/media-center/kits/telemedicine-and-telehealth.html
  4. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2020. Trends in use of telehealth among health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7007a3.htm


About the Author

Dr. Scarlet Spain MedixDr. Scarlet Spain is an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University and a practicing Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner. She has been a Healthcare Consultant with the Medix team since May 2020, supporting our Occupational Health efforts.