The Difference Between Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

By Michael Kopf, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 15, 2022

If you live in the city, getting to your doctor’s appointment can come with many hassles, such as long hours in traffic, large parking structures, and long waiting room times.

It is also not always easy for people living in rural areas as seeing a doctor can come with challenges such as long driving distances, limited access to specialists, and long wait times.

During the last two years, while our world has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been significant positive movement in the direction of telehealth and telemedicine.

With modern technologies for communication, the ability of patients to see their doctors without all the hassles is becoming easier. But what exactly do telehealth and telemedicine entail? 

Telehealth is the overarching term of using technology to deliver care or services, while telemedicine is a subset of telehealth.

In this article, we will unpack the differences between telehealth and telemedicine, discuss what each of them is, and go over when it is good to use these services.

We will also discuss insurance coverage for telehealth/telemedicine and go over the pros and cons of each.

Telehealth vs. Telemedicine

While telehealth and telemedicine services are not necessarily new in healthcare, there has been a sudden expansion of their use, and you may be hearing the terms more frequently. 

There has been some confusion about whether they mean the same thing or represent different services. Some people use the words interchangeably; however, there is a slight difference between telehealth and telemedicine.

Telehealth is a broad term that refers to technology being used to deliver services to patients and for administrative or educational purposes of healthcare providers.   

Telemedicine is a specific type of telehealth that refers to using technology to deliver medical care from a health care provider to a patient in a different location.

Telehealth

The Health Resources Services Administration describes telehealth as: “The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

The technologies generally used for telehealth typically include the internet, videoconferencing, stored images, streaming media, and wireless communications.

Telehealth is not limited to only communicating with doctors.

Often it could be a nurse, pharmacist, or social worker who would use telehealth services to communicate.

These services can help provide people with education, social support, medication education and assist with diagnosing a health issue.

The term “telehealth” also includes non-clinical services such as training for healthcare providers, administrative meetings, and continued education.

Two examples of telehealth mediums include:

  • A public health app that alerts people to a disease outbreak in their area
  • A video-conferencing platform that is used for continued education for healthcare professionals

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is more specific because it deals with only the delivery of medical services from a healthcare provider in one location to a patient at a different location.

By allowing two-way real-time communication or monitoring, telemedicine seeks to streamline improvements to patients’ health.

This service is especially beneficial for people who live in rural and underserved communities and developing countries.

Previously, these populations have suffered because they didn’t have access to health care.

This is also a promising option for immunocompromised patients or those with mobility issues.

The technology needed for a telemedicine visit with your doctor is a phone or device with internet and a camera.

Three examples of telemedicine would be:

  • A mobile app used by physicians to treat their patients via video chats
  • A secure software system that allows patients to send their doctor pictures for a quick diagnosis
  • Remotely monitoring a patient’s vital signs and activities

When to use

Telehealth and telemedicine can be used in a wide variety of circumstances. 

The list below is not comprehensive but can give you an idea of the many ways your doctor can treat you over a telehealth visit.

You can communicate with a healthcare professional using telemedicine if you have the following health conditions or symptoms:

If you have difficulty with mobility or live far from your doctor, you can discuss telehealth options with your doctor’s office to see if this could be an option for you.  

Specialists also can use telehealth to treat their patients. A surgeon may want to video chat with you to check your incision after surgery.

Your gynecologist may like to discuss birth control options with you.

Your endocrinologist may wish to go over your latest lab results. 

These are just a few examples of how telemedicine opens many doors for you, all from the safety and convenience of your home.

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Insurance Coverage and Cost 

Because of the recent rise in the use of telehealth, insurance companies have been expanding what type of telehealth visits they cover.

Private insurance companies, the federal government, and state Medicaid programs have evolved their reimbursement plans.

The type of visits that are covered varies widely from state to state and insurance plan to insurance plan.

Before scheduling a telehealth visit, it would be a good idea to contact your insurance representative to find out what type of telehealth visits are currently approved for your plan.

For most telehealth services, you will pay the same amount you would pay if it were an in-person visit.

How much you owe will depend on a few factors, like how much your doctor charges and what other insurance plans you may have.

At this point, in 42 states private health insurance companies are required to reimburse for telemedicine visits with your doctor. To find the most up-to-date regulations for your state, you can use this policy finder tool.

Medicare part B has started covering certain telehealth services. Examples are outpatient care, doctor’s visits, and preventative services.  

Pros and Cons of Telehealth vs. Telemedicine 

Telehealth and telemedicine have many pros but there are some cons as well.

Pros of telehealth and telemedicine:

  • Increase accessibility of patients to doctors
  • More cost-effective
  • Brings healthcare to communities that were traditionally underserved
  • Allows for quicker diagnosis and intervention
  • Better educational opportunities for healthcare providers

Cons of telehealth and telemedicine:

  • Not everyone understands  how to use the needed technology
  • Some people don’t have access to the needed technology
  • There is the potential for technical malfunctioning
  • There is a shortage of studies on this model documenting its benefits

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
The difference between telehealth and telemedicine is a very fine line. In some cases, the terms are used interchangeably. But technically, telehealth is a broad term used to describe utilizing telecommunication technology to perform long-distance health care. It also includes healthcare professionals using technology for nonclinical activities, such as meetings or continued education. On the other hand, telemedicine is the term used to describe using telecommunication technology specifically to provide people with healthcare services.
What are examples of telehealth?
Examples of telehealth are public health apps that alert people to a disease outbreak in the area. It could also be a video-conferencing platform that is used for continued education for healthcare professionals.
What are the three different types of telemedicine?
There are three main types or categories of telemedicine, namely- store and forward telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and real-time telemedicine. Store and forward telemedicine refers to the method by which patient information, like lab reports or images, can be securely sent to a doctor or specialist in a different location. Remote patient monitoring is a way to track patients’ vital signs and activities from different locations. This is great for patients at high risk for medical complications, such as people with diabetes and high blood pressure or people recently discharged from the hospital. Real-time telemedicine includes any two-way communication method between a patient and a doctor to discuss their concerns and perform an assessment.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Michael Kopf, MD

Dr. Michael Kopf graduated cum laude from the University of Miami, where he majored in Film Studies and English Literature. He went on to receive his medical degree from Ross University School of Medicine. Michael trained in Internal Medicine at Danbury Hospital-Yale School of Medicine, and went on to complete fellowships in Hematology/Oncology at SUNY Downstate and Palliative Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In addition to his work in medicine, Michael enjoys watching and reading about movies, writing, and spending time with his wife and yorkie, Excelsior.

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