What Is Telehealth? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP

Telehealth is a way of providing healthcare remotely using technology. Examples include video call appointments and online forms. Telehealth can make accessing healthcare easier for some people. However, it may also have drawbacks. Telehealth has become increasingly common since the COVID-19 pandemic started, but it may have lasting benefits for providing care.

Still, using telehealth can be a personal decision. Talk with a doctor if you have any questions or concerns about using telehealth.

This article explains telehealth, including its types, benefits, and drawbacks.

What does “telehealth” mean?

Someone takes a video call on a tablet while sitting with a toddler.
Photography by Danil Nevsky/Stocksy United

Telehealth uses technology to provide remote healthcare. It offers healthcare services without having to see a professional in person or go to a healthcare center.

For example, with telehealth, you can:

  • send and receive messages with your healthcare team
  • monitor your condition and record updates
  • receive prescriptions remotely
  • talk with a healthcare professional via:
    • online chats
    • forms
    • audio or video calls

Telehealth vs. telemedicine

Telehealth, telemedicine, and telecare can be easily confused. Sometimes their services and features overlap.

Telemedicine involves providing patients with medical help and information. By contrast, telehealth generally includes more services as well as providing patients with medical help and information. Examples of other services telehealth can offer include social work or care, and health education for professionals.

Telehealth vs. telecare

Telecare is a type of telehealth. It refers to using technology for at-home care and health management. For example, telecare includes digital medication reminders and smart devices like automatic sensors or smart cameras.

Still, the exact definitions of telehealth, telemedicine, and telecare can vary depending on the organization you ask.

What are the types of telehealth?

There are multiple types of telehealth Trusted Source National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Governmental authority Go to source , with each one providing care in different ways.

Teleconsultations

Teleconsultations or telehealth appointments allow you to have a medical appointment without going into your medical team’s office. They can be used for diagnosing or monitoring conditions, providing prescriptions, and giving therapy.

Examples include a phone or video call.

Asynchronous care

Asynchronous care refers to collecting and sending medical information between you and medical professionals. It is also called “store and forward” care.

Examples of asynchronous care include:

  • a clinician sending test results back to you
  • filling out a form to report your symptoms, and a doctor deciding whether to recommend an in-person appointment or certain treatment
  • a clinician digitally sending prescription forms to you or a local pharmacy
  • sending pictures of a skin symptom so that a dermatologist can look at it
  • receiving instructions or informational material
  • remote patient monitoring (RPM)

RPM

RPM involves using at-home devices, apps, or digital records to monitor your condition. For example, some glucose monitors can send live updates of your readings to an app or digital record for you and your medical team to check.

Telehomecare

Telehomecare combines RPM with at-home care when needed. It is a type of telecare.

For example, some monitors alert caregivers and emergency services to problems such as falls.

What are the benefits of telehealth?

Benefits Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of telehealth can include:

  • saving time from traveling to and waiting for appointments
  • extending operating hours and increasing the availability of appointments, meaning you can get help faster
  • improving healthcare professional shortages and offering more choices, as you may be able to work with a clinician who is far away
  • offering more flexibility in where and when you can get help
  • providing help to people who cannot leave the house or find it difficult, such as people who have mobility issues or who are self-isolating
  • offering new options for monitoring symptoms and conditions

When used appropriately, research suggests telehealth could be safe and effective at similar rates Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source to in-person care. However, more research is needed to confirm its safety and effectiveness for different conditions and cases.

What are the drawbacks of telehealth?

Disadvantages of telehealth can include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • Equipment: Telehealth sometimes requires equipment or devices that not everyone has or is able to afford, such as a smartphone, computer, or at-home monitors. Also, some people may find using technology hard or inaccessible.
  • Cost and insurance: Not all healthcare insurers or government programs cover all areas of telehealth. In some cases, you may have to pay out of pocket for telehealth care.
  • Range of care: Some healthcare cannot be provided through telehealth.
  • Relationships: Some people may feel that telehealth affects their relationships or trust with healthcare professionals.

There are also some concerns about the security and safety of telehealth, such as:

  • Privacy and confidentiality: Telehealth may have more privacy and security risks than in-person care. For example, hackers may access digital records or calls. It may also be hard to find a private place to have a telehealth appointment. Still, most programs healthcare professionals use are highly protected against hackers.
  • Accuracy: Medical information may be unclear when sent remotely and can be saved incorrectly, leading to misdiagnosis. However, there are clear guidelines for clinicians using medical images and data, which can help reduce the risk of misdiagnosis.
  • Licensing: Many forms of medical care require the healthcare professional to have a state-specific license. As a result, not all clinicians can help patients who are out of state.

Talk with your medical team if you have any questions or concerns about using telehealth.

When should I use telehealth?

If you would like to use telehealth, talk with your medical team about what services they recommend for you and what they can offer. If they do not offer telehealth services and you think they might help, consider looking around for another healthcare professional.

However, telehealth cannot help treat all conditions, and it is important to know when to seek in-person or emergency care.

Contact a doctor or a local health center if you have questions about whether you should use telehealth services or find urgent, in-person care. Also, call 911 for any severe symptoms.

Summary

Telehealth uses technology to provide healthcare remotely. Examples include video call appointments, monitoring a condition remotely with devices, and digital prescriptions.

The benefits of telehealth include improving accessibility to healthcare while offering safe and effective help. However, some disadvantages include concerns about digital privacy, limitations to what telehealth can help with, and limited insurance coverage.

Talk with your local health facility if you have any questions about telehealth and whether it could help you.

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Medical Reviewer: Shilpa Amin, M.D., CAQ, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2024 May 3
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